How Brett Kavanagh Inspired Stephen Hunter’s Latest Novel
New Bob Lee Swagger thriller, 'Targeted,' finds the author pulling few punches
Bob Lee Swagger has faced his share of deadly foes through a dozen Stephen Hunter novels following the former Marine sniper.
He’s gone head-to-head with everyone from terrorists to corrupt officials in his own government. Then there was also the time he went up against Danny Glover in the sole film adaptation of Hunter’s work, 2007’s underrated “Shooter.”
In the latest Swagger adventure, “Targeted,” Hunter gives his aging warrior a new kind of adversary, the kind who doesn’t pick up arms. This villain thrives in the political theater that is Washington, D.C.
“Targeted,” available now, was quite literally born out of “anger,” according to Hunter.
“It started a long time ago,” the author said of the motivation behind his latest novel. “It started with an anger I’ve always had with a certain American ceremony, and that’s the one where people of inaction, people who know nothing about action set about to judge people of action when they have had to do something in action.”
That’s the predicament in which Swagger finds himself in “Targeted” as he’s informed his latest work dispensing bloody justice on behalf of the government has come under scrutiny from D.C. and a hearing has been set to determine whether Swagger’s use of force was justified.
After a few moments with the pair leading the charge against Swagger, the congressional members will be all too familiar to readers with even a passing knowledge of politics’s more outrageous actors. The pair froth at the mouth when fantasizing about being the person to ‘cancel’ Bob the Nailer.
“I had to dial it back a little,” Hunter says of keeping congressional adversaries from going into full blown caricature.
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The camera play and carnival barking at the hearings in “Targeted” feel all too familiar when Swagger is finally forced to engage.
Hunter reveals he was “very annoyed” witnessing the hearings tied to Brett Kavanaugh and, eventually, Donald Trump in recent years.
“They were essentially trying to murder him, at least professionally,” Hunter recalls of Kavanaugh, who was eventually confirmed to the Supreme Court after exhaustive hearings that presented what Hunter ultimately chalks up to nothing more than “performance art.”
“Targeted” may have a ripped from the headlines feel, but the origins of the story have been with Hunter for years, especially a plot thread in the novel focusing on the Swagger lineage all the way back to the Revolutionary War — and, yes, there is a sword fight.
If the Revolutionary War and the word salads of political hearings sound like too much of a departure for Swagger, fear not. Hunter throws a “Die Hard”-like grenade into his novel in the form of a rogue crew of criminals who decide to crash Swagger’s party.
“They find themselves in killing times and in those circumstances, they desperately yearn for a Bob Lee Swagger,” Hunter says of his protagonist’s political enemies.
“Targeted” is a slick thriller, peppered with Hunter’s knack for visually arresting action and the oddball character or two begging for their own spinoffs. It’s strange to remember that this is the 12th Bob Lee Swagger adventure, the series kept fresh over the years by using Swagger as a window of sorts into various worlds or conspiratorial rabbit holes.
If you didn’t tune into last night’s livestream with Stephen Hunter, you missed an enjoyable & wide-ranging conversation about TARGETED, Bob Lee Swagger, swashbuckling sword fights, & a host of other topics. Catch the archived event now on YouTube: https://t.co/s51tgmE2tZ pic.twitter.com/OdoJr0MDOd
— Mysterious Bookshop (@TheMysterious) January 21, 2022
Hunter has dedicated more time to Swagger and his novels in recent years after stepping away from his film critic position at The Washington Post. It was a job for which he took home the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
The landscape of film criticism and the media in general has since changed drastically, something evidenced in the plot of “Targeted.” Perception and alignment are so much more important to the world at large than individual integrity or truth.
“They’re looking for oppositionists. They’re looking for signs of hearsay,” Hunter says of most critics today.
“They’re looking for reasons to execute. It’s a very ugly atmosphere where you don’t want to disagree with your enemy, you want to destroy your enemy. You want him ruined. You want him cut off from earning a living and starving to death in the alley.”
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While the now full-time novelist describes his own career in media as “wonderful,” he acknowledges that he could sense things were going in a direction he wasn’t comfortable with shortly before his retirement from the Post.
Even films themselves were changing, the former critic says, with studios “more interested in message than entertainment” and checking off social boxes rather than crafting a compelling story.
Still, Hunter’s ‘retirement’ has left a void in the space of film talk that has never been filled. Asked if any movies excite him as the format once did (he has two published works of film essays and reviews), Hunter gives an answer any fan of his could appreciate: “Old Henry,” a little seen, but highly praised 2021 Western starring Time Blake Nelson and Stephen Dorff.
“It still worshiped the old gods. It was about a father taking care of his son. It was about loyalty, and it was about the wisdom of the old,” he says of the “wild card” flick, adding special praise for Dorff as the movie’s villain.
“So many of the movies don’t understand: you really need a powerful villain,” he says.
Hunter’s novels offer plenty of powerful villains, though only a handful of novels have actually been adapted in any way (besides the Wahlberg starring “Shooter,” there was a three-season television series by the same name).
Plenty of Hunter’s work has been stuck in various stages of development purgatory, including “Dirty White Boys,” arguably his most shocking work that presents a twisted family of villains, a tormented hero, and an opening few pages that promise absolute madness.
It was last reported that “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would be working on a film adaptation of the novel after their HBO series ended, but things have been radio silent on the project since for the last couple of years.
“Don’t hold your breath,” Hunter says of an adaptation, theorizing a number of factors may have stalled it, including Benioff and Weiss’ continued relationship with HBO and producers understanding “it was really nothing but trouble along that line.”
The novel, which follows a cop on the path of a family of prison escapees, is a minefield for modern virtue signallers and woke cultists, but it’s also a gut punch of a read that hasn’t lost any of its bite since being published in 1994.
“I think of all my books, it would probably be the most easily and efficiently translated,” Hunter says.
The way things are going, something like “Dirty White Boys” may never make the jump to the silver screen, but that’s neither here nor there when it comes to Hunter’s output, which shows no signs of slowing down.
Next up? “The Bullet Garden,” a 1944-set novel following Earl Swagger, Bob Lee’s father, in a story that is as deprived of modernness as his current book is injected with it.
You can never quite pin down where Hunter is going to take you next, but you can always bet it will be somewhere new.
Zachary Leeman is the author of the novel “Nigh” and co-host of the “Man of Science, Man of Faith” podcast. He has covered politics and culture for Breitbart, LifeZette and others.