"Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for."

- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Soft Target, by Stephen Hunter

As a hardcore fan of Stephen Hunter I am willing to stipulate that he’s pretty shameless as far as the concepts for his novels goes. He stretches credibility with the insouciance of a Hollywood producer, mixing westerns and samurai stories with the basic thriller form, and messing with his own chronologies whenever it suits him. But I think Soft Target is his first actual allegory (he admits it in the Afterword). That, my friends, takes guts. Especially when the allegory works against the current party in power.

This isn’t a Bob Lee Swagger story, but the old Marine sniper’s DNA is all over the thing. Bob Lee’s recently discovered natural son, Ray Cruz, now retired as a Marine sniper himself, just happens to be inside “America, the Mall,” a huge (but fictional) mall in suburban Minneapolis, when Somali jihadis start shooting shoppers and herding the survivors, about 1,000 of them, into the amusement park at the facility’s center. Soon, overhead, who should show up but his half-sister Nikki Swagger, now a TV reporter for a St. Paul station, in a broadcast helicopter?

Ray, of course, can’t stay hiding in the Victoria’s Secret store where he and his fiancee have taken refuge. He has to go and scout out the enemy, see what damage he can do. He’s his father’s son, a congenital hero. And having a hero there means a lot – not only to the hostages in the amusement park, but to the mastermind of the attack, who has dark motives of his own, different from those of the clueless Africans he’s exploiting.

But an even greater threat may be the head of the Minnesota state police force, a man incompetent on a massive level, who will look pretty familiar to most readers.

Bottom line – if you’re a Democrat you’ll hate this book. If you’re a Republican you’ll probably love it. I loved it. It’s not deathless work (I caught Hunter in a couple rookie writing errors – using “enormity” wrong and writing “stridden” [is that a word?] as a past perfect form of "stride”), but Soft Target is a lot of fun, with plenty of Hunter’s trademark thrills and improbabilities. Recommended.

Cautions for language, violence and adult topics.


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