2015 I, Ripper

One of the most told stories in the English language is that of Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer of Victorian England’s London. But Hunter tells it best of them all.

The books starts with the killer’s diary entry of August 31, 1888 with: “When I cut the woman’s throat…” in case there is any doubt about Hunter’s subject.

It cuts back and forth between the killer’s diary and the narrative of “Jeb”, a young man trying to break into the newspaper business. By being in the right place and right time, he becomes the reporter who drives the story. You can see Hunter’s reveling in the minutiae of news reporting at the dawn of electricity.

Struck by the masterful but recently published Sherlock Holmes mystery, Jeb finds a fellow crime solver who makes the perfect Sherlock to Jeb’s Watson, and together they solve the crime. Or do they?

A very fun read.

2014 Sniper’s Honor

A favorite.

The female protagonist, a reporter, and Bob Lee Swagger’s temporary partner, has never been in combat until now. As hostilities prepare to commence, she seeks something to think about that won’t leave her panicked… something besides her family back home… so she turns to the decades she worked in American newsrooms:

“She knew that she had been so lucky to live her life in newsrooms, among funny, ironic, not terribly serous people, some geniuses, some hacks, some fools, some crazy…There was a guy who had become a TV producer, another who wrote some novels…”

And thank heavens for the one who wrote some novels.

Sniper’s Honor is rooted in World War Two (the history of which is one of Hunter’s areas of interest and extreme technical expertise) as Bob Lee Swagger, now 68 and bored with his quiet life in Arizona, with the kids all grown and gone, and his wife managing the business, answers his reporter friend’s call to help unravel a 70-year-old mystery, still unsolved along the German-Russian front, in the Ukraine.

Hunter moves effortlessly through the decades, rotating chapters between Hunter’s present-day investigation into the “White Witch” and the “White Witch” herself – a Russian sniper of that era who was mysteriously erased from history after her mission on the then-front failed – or did not fail – it’s tough to tell, initially.

From the paperback back cover:

It takes a sniper to know a sniper. Seventy years after one of Russia’s most decorated World War II snipers vanishes from history, Bob Lee Swagger picks up her trail, traveling across oceans and time to understand the forces that conspired to silence her. As modern eneimies pursue him through the streets and mountains of Ukraine, Swagger will not rest until he brings Mili Petrova the justice he believes she was denied. From the Battle of Kursk – the largest armored engagement in history – to a thrilling modern-day manhunt among fanatical terrorists, shrews Mossad operators, and the greatest sniper to ever handle a rifle, Sniper’s Honor is a tour de force from one of the greatest thriller writers ever to pick up a pen.

2013 The Third Bullet

Hunter’s only self-biography. Kidding.

However, his novel that takes on the much-discussed Kennedy assassination starts with a reporter who has been tipped a new clue, a gun-solvent stained coat found in the building across the street from the Dallas Book Repository. The reporter is clearly created after Hunter himself. Audacious! Evn more audacious is Hunter then killing himself off, setting the stage for the character’s widow “Jean”(!) to interest Bob Lee Swagger in taking the case.

From that first chapter, Hunter’s take on JFK is quite fascinating. It smacks of authenticity, the result of (as  Hunter notes) his “good-faith effort to play fair by the data established in The Warren Commission Report, Case Closed by Gerald Posner, and Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi. Lee Harvey Oswald is always where those volumes say he was, and he always does what they say he did.”

One of the best of the later Bob Lee Swagger novels.

2003: Havana

From Publishers Weekly The term thriller is too pallid for this powerful, satisfying novel in the 1950s-set Earl Swagger series from bestseller Hunter (Time to Hunt; Hot Springs; Pale Horse Coming). At times the book reads as if it were chiseled out of granite, with Arkansas state cop Swagger hewn from the same impenetrable material. Swagger, ex-Marine Medal of Honor winner and legendary gunfighter, is called in by the American government to serve as bodyguard to Congressman Harry Etheridge in his investigation of New… read more Book Description Havana, the sultry spring of 1953: gambling is expensive, sex is cheap, and death is free. A half-hour by air from Miami, it’s the world’s hottest — and most dangerous — city. From the plush mobster casinos in Centro to the backstreet brothels on Zanja Street, you can get anything you want, for a price. The city is the linchpin of many empires: the Mafia’s, the CIA’s, numerous American corporations’, El Presidente’s, and even the vice lords’ of Old Havana. It must be protected at all costs. But now there’s a threat. A young lawyer, a kid named Castro, is giving speeches. He speaks of reform, of change, of self-determination. He speaks of…of revolution even. This danger must be dealt with. So, into the steamy, sunny climate of corruption come two men, both unafraid, both skilled, both tough as ball bearings. They would be friends in a sane world, for they are so similar in their capabilities and experiences. But now they have to be enemies, because the Cold War is at its apogee: one is American, the other Russian. The American is named Earl Swagger. A Medal of Honor winner on Iwo Jima, a toughened gunman from adventures in Hot Springs and the swamps of Mississippi, Earl has been conned by two young Old Boys of the CIA to become Our Gun in Havana. The Russian, Speshnev, also a veteran of tough battles (from Spain in ’36 to Berlin in ’45, with a few stays in the gulag just for seasoning), has a similar assignment: he too is sent by strategic gamesters to pay attention to that same young orator. But his job is protection, not elimination. Neither man’s assignment will be easy. For, like an orchid hot house, Havana’s climate grows spectacular specimens: the wise old mobster king Meyer Lansky, who runs the casinos for his nervous New York sponsors; the syndicate hitman Frankie Carbine, Frankie Horsekiller of the famed Times Square massacre; the secret police officer called Ojos Bellos — Beautiful Eyes — for his penchant to interrogate at scalpel point; the beautiful Filipina Jean-Marie Augustine, who knows so much; and even those crew-cut, cheery young CIA fellows on the embassy’s Third Floor, behind whose baby-blues and tender faces lurk all manner of deviousness. And everybody wants something. In Havana, Stephen Hunter has produced a truly epic adventure story, shot-through with violence, eroticism, and the pressures of big money and big politics, set in a legendary time and place. His hero, Earl Swagger, fights his enemies, his superiors, and his own temptations and, in the end, has to decide what is worth killing for — and what is worth dying for. He knows only one thing for certain: that he’s a pawn in somebody else’s game. But a pawn with a Colt Super .38 in his shoulder holster and the skill and will to use it fast and well is a formidable man, indeed.

2001: Pale Horse Coming

In Pale Horse Coming the unforgettable Earl Swagger returns in a searing follow-up to Hot Springs, Stephen Hunter’s New York Times bestselling novel. It once again demonstrates why Hunter has been called “the only modern writer who can lay claim to being Dashiell Hammett’s immediate successor.” It’s 1951, and the last place in America any sane man wishes to visit is Thebes State Penal Farm (Colored) in Thebes, Mississippi. Up a dark river, surrounded by swamps and impenetrable piney woods, it’s the Old South at its most brutal – a place of violence, racial terror, and even more horrific rumors. Of the few who make the journey, black or white, even fewer return. But in that year, two men will come to Thebes. The first is Sam Vincent, the former prosecuting attorney Polk County, Arkansas. With great misgivings, Sam accepts a job from a smooth-talking Chicago lawyer to investigate a disappearance. Sam has heard of Thebes and knows that in the Negro culture he only imperfectly understands, the place has a special resonance of horror. Sam is a careful man. Before he leaves on this dangerous trip, he confesses his fears to his former investigator Earl Swagger, a Marine hero on Iwo Jima, veteran of the mob wars in Hot Springs, and now a sergeant of the Arkansas State Police. Earl pledges that if Sam is not back by a certain time, he will come looking for him. Sam will bring his knowledge of the law, his compassion, and his sense of the rational to Thebes, but Earl will bring only his guns. What they encounter there is something beyond their wildest imaginations for evil. The dying black town is ruled by white deputies on horseback who are more like an occupying army that a police force. Each citizen of the town is in debt to the Store, the one remaining civic institution, and the only escape is over the wild currents of the dark river that drowns as many people as it liberates. But nothing in the town can prepare Earl for the prison itself where he becomes the first white inmate. It is a site of fear: run by an aging madman with insane theories of racial purity, it is administered by a brutally efficient Stalin of a guard sergeant known as Bigboy. The convicts call him The Whip Man – he can take a man’s soul with his nine feet of braided cat gut. Both Sam and Earl will be challenged to the limits of their strength by this place and will struggle not only for their own survival, but with deeper questions: What does a man do when confronted with such evil? Can it be remedied? Can it be rectified, redirected, reformed? Or must it just be destroyed? And if so, where would you find the men to destroy it? Drawing on the oldest myths, classical and modern literature, popular culture at its most vigorous, and the Golden Age gun writers of the ’50s, Pale Horse Coming is a stunning story of violence and retribution, written with the same high velocity of Hunter’s classic thrillers Point of Impact, Dirty White Boys, Black Light and Time to Hunt.

2000: Hot Springs

Hunter’s first book for Simon & Schuster. From the hardback dustjacket:

In the summer of 1946, the most wide-open town in America is Hot Springs, Arkansas, a city of ancient, legendary corruption. While the pilgrims take the cure in the mineral-rich 142-degree water that bubbles from the earth, the brothels and casinos are the true source of the town’s prosperity. It is run by an English-born gangster named Owney Maddox, who represents the New York syndicate and rules his empire like a Saxon lord while sporting an ascot and jodhpurs.But it is all about to be challenged. A newly elected county prosecutor wants to take on the big boys and save the city’s soul (he also wouldn’t mind being the next governor). He begins a war on the gambling interests and, knowing the war will be long and bloody, hires an ex-Marine sergeant, Earl Swagger, who won the Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima, to run it. Swagger knows how to fight with guns as well as any man in the world. But he is haunted: the savage fighting he just barely survived and the men he left behind in the Pacific still shadow his mind, leaving a terrible melancholy. There are even darker memories: a murdered father who beat him mercilessly and drove a younger brother to suicide. And he’s torn by his own impending fatherhood, as his wife, Junie nears term. It isn’t that Earl Swagger is afraid of dying; more scary still, it’s possible that he yearns for it. The gangsters fight back, setting up a campaign of ambush and counter ambush in the brothels, casinos and alleys of the City of the Vapors. Raids erupt into full-out combat amid screaming prostitutes and fleeing johns. The body count mounts. Meanwhile, the politics behind the war are shifting: Will the prosecuting attorney stick with his raiders or sell them out to curry favor with the state’s political machine? Will Owney Maddox defeat the raiders but lose a personal battle against a cunning rival from the West who foresees a Hot Springs in the Nevada desert as the future franchise city of organized crime? But most important, will Earl Swagger survive yet another hard war, not merely with his body but also with his soul intact? Packed with page-turning action, sex, sin and crime, Stephen Hunter’s Hot Springs is at once a relentlessly violent and deeply touching story.

1998 Time To Hunt

The third Bob Lee Swagger book.

During the latter days of the Vietnam War, deep in-country, a young idealistic Marine named Donny Fenn was cut down by a sniper’s bullet as he set out on patrol with Swagger, who himself received a grievous wound. Years later Swagger married Donny’s widow, Julie, and together they raise their daughter, Nikki, on a ranch in the isolated Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Although he struggles with the painful legacy of Vietnam, Swagger’s greatest wish–to leave his violent past behind and live quietly with his family–seems to have come true.Then one idyllic day, a man, a woman, and a girl set out from the ranch on horseback. High on a ridge above a mountain pass, a thousand yards distant, a calm, cold-eyed shooter, one of the world’s greatest marksmen, peers through a telescopic sight at the three approaching figures. Out of his tortured past, a mortal enemy has once again found Bob the Nailer. Time to Hunt proves anew why so many consider Stephen Hunter to be our best living thriller writer. With a plot that sweeps from the killing fields of Vietnam to the corridors of power in Washington to the shadowy plots of the new world order, Hunter delivers all the complex, stay-up-all-night action his fans demand in a masterful tale of family heartbreak and international intrigue–and shows why, for Bob Lee Swagger, it’s once again time to hunt.

1996: Black Light

The second Bob Lee Swagger book, and last book published by Bantam. From the hardcover dustjacket:

Bob Lee Swagger has seen — and delivered — dozens of deaths. As a United States Marine sniper in Vietnam, his astonishing accuracy with a rifle earned him the nickname “Bob the Nailer;” twenty years later he was forced to kill again to unravel a brutal conspiracy. Now happily secluded with his wife and young daughter in the Arizona desert, Bob believes all the killing is behind him. Until a young writer, Russ Pewtie, arrives at his door with troubling questions about the past.Forty years earlier, Swagger’s father, a dedicated state trooper, was gunned down by two robbers in a sensational shoot-out just outside of Blue Eye, Arkansas. Faced with Russ’ persistence and a desire to make peace with a father he never really knew, Swagger decides to discover what really happened that night long ago in Arkansas. But as soon becomes clear, powerful people don’t want the truth uncovered — and Swagger must use all his combat skills and ruthless cunning to survive. Like the infrared “black light” that exposes a sniper’s target in the dead of night, Swagger homes in on the shadowy figures desperate to keep the secret of his father’s murder buried. And with the relentless you-must-turn-the-page pace that is Stephen Hunter’s trademark, Black Light accelerates to its exhilarating climax — an explosion of gunfire that blasts open the secrets of two generations.