Just when it seemed that Stephen Hunter might’ve run out of puff with his Swagger family series, which went seriously wonky a while back (‘Night Of Thunder’ is the one to avoid at all costs), a change in direction has revitalised his writing. G-Man is the latest ‘retrospective’ Swagger story and it’s a stonking great read.
Like ‘Sniper’s Honor’ and ‘The Third Bullet’, Bob Lee Swagger is the central character in the present day. Bob The Nailer, former Marine sharpshooter, is getting on a bit these days and carries more than his fair share of battle scars, but he’s still a sharp-eyed, savvy 70-something. When oddball items of old armaments and what might be a treasure map come to light in his grandfather’s home, Bob starts tugging on threads which are tangled back in the days of Prohibition. Little is known about lawman Charles Swagger and it seems there might be some uncomfortable home truths to be discovered…
The action switches seamlessly between a carefully crafted version of the 1930s mobster scene, where John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd wreak havoc with Tommie guns, and Bob Lee’s unsettling discoveries about this very special agent who was disowned by the fledgling FBI. In the Swagger family, loyalty, honour and duty are paramount. Could it be true that Sheriff Charles betrayed his comrades, abandoned his family, and crept away from a gunfight… a coward?
As well as a rip-snorting story, G-Man also delivers detailed historical segments where the bad guys are as well developed as their agency opponents. Author Stephen Hunter takes the opportunity to correct several of the irritating inconsistencies which are frequently repeated about this period. Simultaneously, he spins a ripping yarn in the 21st century which sees Bob himself at odds with criminals who’d like to lay their paws on whatever treasure is buried in the back of beyond. Although the outcome is never in any real doubt, there are some genuine surprises along the way.
However! If you don’t enjoy the mechanismo of motor vehicles and armaments, you may find the detailed descriptions somewhat overwhelming. Me, I adore them. Hunter’s wit and technical expertise are what elevates the Swagger series beyond merely ‘interesting’ and into ‘excellent.’
Layered with intricate detail about the weaponry and the real-life men who wielded it, G-Man brings a sniper’s intense scrutiny to bear on a gripping period of lawlessness and disorder. Sit back and enjoy: you’re in the safe hands of a master storyteller who has rediscovered his mojo.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
G-Man by Stephen Hunter is available in ebook and hard copy
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