SNIPER’S HONOR

July 4, 2016


A good friend of mine “turned me on” to the writer Stephen Hunter.  Until recently, I had never read Mr. Hunter but can now definitely recommend his work to you.  He is a marvelous writer and an accomplished “wordsmith”.  The manner in which he assembles thoughts and transforms those thoughts into meaningful sentences is truly amazing.

Sniper’s Honor is about retired sniper Bob Lee Swagger and the adventures he faces while trying to discover the post-WWII life of the “White Witch”.  Ludmilla Petrova or Mili was a sniper for the Russian Army during WWII.  She seemingly disappeared toward the end of the war in the year 1944. Killed—maybe, but the events leading up to her disappearance were erased from the German and Russian records. Swagger teams with his old friend Kathy Reilly to unearth the story of the deadly and beautiful Russian sniper, Ludmilla “Mili” Petrova.   Petrova stands in for the real-world female Soviet snipers who fought the German in the German invasion of Russia.

Despite racking up enough kills to earn the nickname “White Witch,” Petrova has disappeared from the historical record. This disappearance intrigues Reilly, a correspondent for The Washington Post. Stalin’s government loved to portray women snipers as heroes, so why not glorify one so photogenic? How had she earned the ire of the Kremlin, and what sort of end had she met?  Sensing a great feature story, Reilly emails Swagger to ask about the Mosin-Nagant 91, a weapon Mili would have used. The opening question brings Swagger into a journey far more dangerous than a historical fact-finding trip; there are people who don’t want this seventy (70)-year-old mystery solved.

Let me give you a sense of Hunter’s writing with the following two excerpts from Sniper’s Honor.

“They were on a plain under a dome of sky. All was flatness. It was an infinity of flatness under the towering clouds of the Ukrainian sky. It was a battle reduced to its essential elements with no distractions, almost an abstraction: the existential flatness of the plain to the horizon, the vaulting blue arch of cloud-filled sky, the sense of tininess of men and machines on this construction that only a mad god could have invented. The tanks lurched ahead.”

Another characteristic of Hunter’s writing is his ability to freeze a moment and draw a word picture of everything that happens within the span of a second or two. At one point, he takes a couple of pages to describe the flight of a bullet from a rifle barrel to — and into — a bad guy. The images become quite graphic, but you bear with it because the target so richly deserves his fate:

“The bullet struck him on a lateral transective angle approximately six inches below his left ear, that is, a bit lower than the root of his neck on the torso, a little in front of the medial line of the shoulder, issuing a sound that reminded those nearby of a crowbar slamming into a side of beef.”

This was the challenge Swagger took on in unearthing the truth to her activities and life after the war.  Let’s first take a look at the writer’s bio.

BIOGRAPHY:

Stephen Hunter was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up in Evanston, Illinois. His father was Charles Francis Hunter, a Northwestern University speech professor who was unfortunately killed in 1975.   His mother was Virginia Ricker Hunter, a writer of children’s books.  After graduating from Northwestern in 1968 with a degree in journalism,  Hunter was drafted for two years into the United States Army where he served as a ceremonial soldier in The Old Guard (3rd Infantry Regiment) in Washington, D.C.  He later wrote for a military paper, the Pentagon News.

He joined The Baltimore Sun in 1971, working at the copy desk of the newspaper’s Sunday edition for a decade. He became its film critic in 1982, a post he held until moving to The Washington Post in the same function in 1997. In 1998 Hunter won the American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the criticism category, and in 2003 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.

Hunter’s thriller novels include Point of Impact (filmed as Shooter), Black Light and Time to Hunt, which form a trilogy featuring Vietnam War veteran and sniper Bob “the Nailer” Swagger. The story of Bob Lee Swagger continued with The 47th Samurai (2007), Night of Thunder (2008), I, Sniper (2009) and Dead Zero (2010). The series has led to two spin-off series: Hot SpringsPale Horse Coming, and Havana form another trilogy centered on Bob Swagger’s father, Earl Swagger, while Soft Target (2011) focuses on Bob’s long-unknown son, Ray Cruz.

Hunter has written three non-fiction books: Violent Screen: A Critic’s 13 Years on the Front Lines of Movie Mayhem (1995), a collection of essays from his time at The SunAmerican Gunfight (2005), an examination of the November 1, 1950 assassination attempt on Harry S. Truman at Blair House in Washington, D.C.; and Now Playing at the Valencia (2005), a collection of pieces from The Washington Post. Hunter has also written a number of non-film-related articles for The Post, including one on Afghanistan: “Dressed To Kill—From Kabul to Kandahar, It’s Not Who You Are That Matters, but What You Shoot” (2001).

Hunter is a firearms enthusiast, well known in the gun community for the careful, correct, and in-depth firearm detail in many of his works of fiction. He himself shoots as a hobby, saying “many people don’t understand, shooting a firearm is a sensual pleasure that’s rewarding in and of itself.” You can certainly tell from the Swagger series of books he knows firearms.

CONCLUSION:

This was a great read for me and a book I can definitely recommend to you. Four hundred (400) plus pages of work, extremely descriptive, very concise, detailed, and yet moving very quickly.  The last chapter is a REAL shocker and pulls the entire story together.  DON’T READ THE LAST CHAPTER FIRST.

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