One of my favorite series is that of Bob Lee Swagger, Bob the Nailer to his friends (and enemies). A renowned Marine sniper, Bob Lee is not a man to be trifled with, being the son of Medal Of Honor winner Earl Swagger (who has a series of his own). Hunter is a terrific writer but the series has been somewhat uneven over the years. There is nothing second-rate about the subject of this review, however.
I, SNIPER by Stephen Hunter.
The 21st century is a time in shades of gray. There is no black or white, no good or evil, just the in-between, the no-man’s land of flexible morality and sellable honor. Nothing matters except perception, success is defined by measures of things, of objects, of tangible goods far removed from the world of the spiritual. So when 4 radical leftists from the bygone protest era of the 60’s and 70’s are slaughtered in a matters of hours by someone with world-class sniper skills, the FBI almost immediately identifies one Carl Hitchcock, USMC (retired), the leading sniper in Vietnam, as the likely culprit. All of the evidence points his way, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to indicate that he is innocent. And when he turns up dead in a seedy motel room with the muzzle of a rifle in his mouth, it is almost a given that he died from a guilty conscience.
Almost a given. Because while the 21st century might be a time of bendable truth, a time of gray, not every man living in that time is of that time. Not the Special Agent in Charge of Task Force Sniper, Nick Memphis, and most definitely not his deux ex machina, Bob the Nailer, aka Bob Lee Swagger.
The wife of southern billionaire T.T. Constable, the lady who once sat on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft missile battery and encouraged them to kill Americans, Hanoi Joan Flanders, took one through the heart at a very long distance, as did three other similar leftists now living the cushy life regaling a whole new generation of star struck leftists with their exploits. Although divorced from Joan, pampered bully Constable wants the case closed immediately and when Hitchcock’s name comes up he jumps at the chance, pressuring everybody he can think of to issue the report and tidy up the mess. And with most of Washington, D.C., firmly in the narcissistic 21st century camp, it seems a foregone conclusion that hero Hitchcock will get the blame without a chance to defend himself. Nobody is going to go out on a limb just to save the reputation of some dead guy.
Except Nick Memphis, who knows better but doesn’t care. And where Memphis leads, Swagger follows. Asked just to give his opinion, Bob soon enough concludes that Hitchcock is innocent and vows to clear his name. That’s when bad people start trying to up the body count to include him. They make one serious mistake: you don’t hunt Bob the Nailer, he hunts you. They find this out soon enough.
This is the most satisfying entry in this series for quite a long time, perhaps ever. There are moral wrongs to be righted here and the aging Bob Lee is just the man to do it. There is plenty of sniper-jargon and technology here, plenty of covert stalking, plenty of action, along with the usual terrific dialogue and interwoven plot. Hunter is flat out good at this and isn’t afraid to show it. And there’s nothing gray about that.