Monday, June 04, 2007

TIME TO HUNT by Stephen Hunter

International thrillers have been a staple of my reading diet since I stumbled across the early works of Jack Higgins, Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, and a little later that of David Morrell, Noel Hynd and—don’t hate me—Tom Clancy. In the early-1990s I found a novel by an author I was not familiar with. The novel was The Day Before Midnight, and the author was named Stephen Hunter. I read The Day Before Midnight, and loved it. Then I promptly forgot about Hunter until I picked up his masterful novel Point of Impact, featuring sniper Bob Lee Swagger.

Unfortunately—after reading several of Hunter’s novels—I promptly forgot him again. I went some six or seven years without reading any of his work. (Admittedly this was, at least in part, due to my disappointment with many of the authors who dominate the genre with poor writing and bloated, uninteresting plots.) Well that changed a few weeks ago, because I—influenced by the film Shooter, which is based on Point of Impact—picked up a Stephen Hunter novel and literally read it overnight. The title: Time to Hunt.

Time to Hunt is the third, and presumably final, novel featuring former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger. It opens in 1971 Washington, D.C. as Donny Fenn navigates his way through more than one sticky situation only to find himself back in Vietnam working as the spotter for Sergeant Swagger.

The first half of Time to Hunt is a Vietnam novel, and a damn good one, but then it is transformed into a modern thriller with a plot full of questions and a hero not only worthy of the action, but very much worthy of his audience. Bob Lee Swagger battles an old enemy, his alcoholism, a separation from his wife and daughter, and even a few ghosts from Vietnam as he crosses the continent in search of the man who tried to kill him.

Time to Hunt is one of the best thrillers I have read. The plot is flawless, the characters are strong, and the forward momentum is astonishing. Hunter ratchets the tension with the finesse of an old pro, and with Bob Lee Swagger, he has created one of the most likable, able and well-drawn action characters ever created. He is all man—intelligent, tough and more than able to take on the bad guys. Simply put, Stephen Hunter is the best writer of thrillers still practicing the trade, and Time to Hunt is one of his best.

Good news: I just discovered that Stephen Hunter has a new Bob Lee Swagger novel scheduled for release on September 11, 2007—the title: The 47th Samurai; the publisher Simon & Schuster.

No comments: