I said a little about Stephen Hunter’s Point of Impact a few posts back, and I told you I was enjoying it quite a lot.
That was an understatement.
Now, I suppose that’s old news to many of you. I expect I’m far behind the curve (as is so often the case), since this book and its sequels and collaterals have been out for a while. So this review would probably better be called an appreciation. I just want to babble a little about how much I enjoyed Point of Impact, and to share my priceless insights on why I think it’s so great.
The chief beauty here is that the book is centered on a strong, well-rounded, sympathetic hero. If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all you know I think character is king, and Bob Lee Swagger, the hero of this book, is a hero and a half. I don’t think there’s been a straight-ahead, singleminded, admirable main guy like this since Louis L’Amour died, and L’Amour wasn’t as good a writer as Hunter (I speak as an admirer of L’Amour).
Bob Lee Swagger of Blue Eye, Arkansas is everything books and movies and television have been teaching us to despise for most of my lifetime. He’s a white southerner. His formal education is limited. He’s ex-military, and he loves his guns. He also loves his country, to the point where he destroys evidence that might clear him of a capital accusation, because its release might make America look bad.
Swagger is approached by a mysterious pair of strangers, obviously former soldiers, who offer him a short-term job. They want him to test some new ammunition, they say. His testimonial would be valuable to them, as he was a legendary Marine sniper in Vietnam.
He does the job, and the ammunition is good. But something isn’t right. Bob Lee is not only a shooter, he’s a hunter of men. His hunter’s sense tells him they’re not telling him the full truth, but they entice him with a lure he can’t resist—there’s a plot to kill the president, they say, and the shooter coming in to do the job is a Russian, a famous sniper whom the Vietnamese brought in to take out Bob Lee himself during the war. That sniper crippled Bob Lee and killed his spotter. Bob Lee’s job will be to figure out where the attack will come, and to help them prevent it.
Of course it all goes south from there. Before long Bob Lee is on the run, wounded and the target of a nationwide manhunt.
Another great character is Nick Memphis, an FBI agent who first hunts Bob Lee, and then forms an alliance with him. Nick was a sniper too, years back. He tried to take out a criminal who was holding several women hostage. But he missed the shot and paralyzed a hostage. He married the woman and nursed her for the rest of her life. It doesn’t seem to have ever occurred to him to do anything else.
Even the villains are entirely believable and realistically motivated.
And the women—the women in this book are solid gold, Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Your Man,” grand ladies. They may have moments of envy for the easier lives enjoyed by women who chose lesser men, but they know that they could have had that kind of man if they’d wanted one. (I suppose these women are as much fantasy characters as Bond Girls in the movies. But it’s a whole ‘nother kind of fantasy.)
The plotting is flawless. Tension grows and grows as Bob Lee’s enemies’ plans unfold, and he finds the whole world more and more against him. Yet he never loses his nerve. He never gives up—even with a bullet hole in his chest.
I couldn’t help thinking of James Bond as I read Point of Impact. Like a Bond movie (the books not so much), this novel presents a vision of manhood that most of us can only dream of.
The difference is that, after reading Point of Impact, I wanted to be a better man than I am.
As you’d expect, there’s mature subject matter and harsh language. But I recommend Point of Impact for every grownup man. I have no idea what women think of it.