Stephen Hunter’s ‘Bullet Garden’ Goes Back to the Future

Novel expands Swagger saga, follows father's World War II adventures

Stephen Hunter’s last novel, “Targeted,” thrust Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger into a world of satire, AKA modern day politics.

The novel, inspired by Hunter’s frustration at Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s fiery confirmation hearing, included caricatures of political figures like Rep. Nancy Pelosi as they tried taking down a dinosaur who didn’t fit in their bubble-wrapped, Twitter-worshiping culture.

In Hunter’s latest, “The Bullet Garden,” modern-day convenient inconveniences haven’t even been conceived yet. While Bob Lee is Hunter’s go-to protagonist, the author jumped back to the sniper’s father, Earl Swagger, for this latest adventure.

There’s still a fish out of water story, but instead of Bob Lee in Washington D.C. we get Earl commissioned from the Marines to the Army in World War II. The mission? Take down an enemy sniper operation making mince meat out of our boys.

“Earl transfers me to a world without the Internet, and that’s so much easier,” Hunter said about his decision to jump back to the past after “Targeted.” There’s been plenty of history put to paper about Earl through Hunter’s career. He’s popped up in various Bob Lee books and led his own trilogy of books, with “Hot Springs,” “Pale Horse Coming” and “Havana.”

Like Hunter’s Bob Lee books, “The Bullet Garden” is a kinetic, visual ride from a storyteller who has mastered an art that eludes so many writers: how to not waste time. It never lets up, and like “Targeted,” it’s overflowing with flourishes that make Hunter stand apart from his fellow thriller writers.

From the romantic, yet precise description of firearms to poetic flares peppered in that feel more influenced by a Hemingway than a Clancy, there’s plenty here for Hunter fans. There are also some fun callbacks to his previous work, including his first published novel, “The Master Sniper.”

New Stephen Hunter Novel ‘The Bullet Garden’ | Gun Talk Radio

The Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic has always interwoven his book narratives, long before Marvel made such world-building mainstream.

“Most of the books are connected and if you care to — and one person did care to — you could put together a very complicated timeline and relationships line and it would look like a diagram of an extremely complex chemical equation,” Hunter said.

One such connection was between “Dirty White Boys” and his Bob Lee saga. For those who haven’t read it, “Dirty White Boys” is a gut punch of a novel from a writer at a point where caring about convention is the last thing on his mind.

The novel follows a ruthless crew of prison escapees being hunted by a cop who doesn’t quite fit the traditional hero mold.

Shooting Straight with Stephen Hunter

The author is far from finished. As providing red meat to loyal readers seems to have become his calling, Hunter is next working on a book that will combine adventures from three generations of Swaggers: Bob Lee, Earl, and Earl’s father, Charles Swagger.

What Hunter doesn’t have to keep him busy today is his gig reviewing movies for The Washington Post, a position he left in 2008 to write full time. The former critic isn’t too enthused with today’s cinema output, but there is still clearly a movie lover there.

For those wondering what Hunter’s been watching, he gives a modest thumbs up to “Babylon,” “The Menu,” and “Bones and All,” and it’s the sort of praise that made his reviews so fun to read.

“Each one of those I found provocative and interesting and somewhere between pretty good and really good, but nowhere near great,” he said.

Hunter does recommend the horror breakout hit “Barbarian” from last year and says he’s been on an Italian Giallo kick, a genre made famous by legendary filmmakers like Dario Argento.

Hunter’s own books seem prime for film adaptations, but they’ve struggled to find their way to the screen.

“Point of Impact,” however, became Mark Wahlberg’s 2007 film “Shooter” and then multiple Hunter books were snatched up for a three-season TV series of the same name with Ryan Phillippe.

Shooter (2007) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

The novelist doesn’t worry about his movie prospects these days.

“Getting the book published was the point and the reward, and what happened after that always sort of bedazzled me. Some books lived on and some disappeared like a Chinese balloon over Montana,” Hunter joked.

Movie, no movie, doesn’t matter. Hunter has created a visceral, layered world that has become more enthralling as both the novelist himself has grown and the world around him has so drastically changed.

Hunter looks at all of it with a sense of humor and wonder.

“It never occurred to me that I’d end up writing the alpha male saga of west Arkansas. How would I have ever conceived that idea at 25 years old?” he said.

“The Bullet Garden” is available now.

Zachary Leeman is the author of the novel “Nigh” from publisher Gilded Masque and has covered politics and culture for LifeZette, Mediaite, and others.

One Comment

  1. Great author! I read all of his books. I’m currently mid-way through Bullet Garden. It’s a fun story set during a fascinating time (WW2). I wish we could get more of this type of entertainment!

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