Stephen Hunter has published his 12th Bob Lee Swagger novel, “Game of Snipers: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel,” which has the popular character pitted against an equally skilled and practiced professional sniper.
The reticent, rangy and retired rifleman, a former U.S. Marine Corps Vietnam War sniper known as “Bob the Nailer,” still manages to become involved actively in action plots and new tests of his specialized skill as a sniper.
Bob Lee Swagger has been portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in “Shooter,” a 2007 film based on Stephen Hunter’s 1993 thriller “Point of Impact,” and by Ryan Phillippe in the “Shooter” TV series. I enjoyed the film and TV series, but both actors were too young and short to fit Stephen Hunter’s description of Bob Lee Swagger as a tall, lean, grizzled and slow-talking but fast-thinking “Arkansas hick” with a hip replacement and assorted other combat injuries.
To me, there is one actor who can best portray the 72-year-old sniper, and that is Clint Eastwood. As Clint Eastwood at 89 is still acting in films he directs, such as 2008’s “The Mule,” I’d like to see him direct a film based on “Game of Snipers” and portray Bob Lee Swagger.
Until then, one can enjoy reading about Bob Lee Swagger in this new novel. In the opening of “Game of Snipers,” Bob Lee Swagger is resting on a rocker on the porch of his Idaho ranch when Janet McDowell arrives unannounced and unwelcomed.
“Ma’am,” he called. “Just so you know: this is private property, and I’m not what you call a public fellow. If you’re selling, I’m not buying. If you’re interviewing, I’m not talking. And if you’re campaigning, I don’t vote. But if you’re lost, I will happily give you directions, and a glass of water,” Mr. Hunter writes.
“I’m not lost, Mr. Swagger — Sergeant Swagger. It took me days to find out where you lived. I know you don’t like interruptions, and there’s no reason you should, but I would claim the right to a hearing because of the circumstances”
“Well,“ he said, thinking, oh, Lord what now?
“My son. Lance Corporal Thomas McDowell, sniper, 3/8. Baghdad, 2003. Came home to me in a box.”
And Mom wants the sniper who killed him dead.
Bob Lee Swagger recalls that the Iraqis had an effective sniper program and many Americans died, but then an American team analyzed data and designed new strategies to counter the sniper program. So our dying went way down and theirs went way up, he noted.
The woman told him that after her son died, she traveled to Iraq seven times. She had been raped four times, bilked by con artists three times and beaten three, once severely, while trying to learn who killed her son. She used money from the sale of her house, and she became a Muslim to understand the killer. She learned about an outsider who trained the Iraqis with a Russian sniper rifle and taught them effective tactics. He later vanished when the Americans gained the upper hand.
“He was called “Juba the Sniper,” she told him.
Bob Lee Swagger admired the determined woman, but the principled former sniper told her that he would not kill the sniper for her, as that would be murder, not war, and revenge, not justice. But he tells her that he has a contact in the Israeli Mossad, and he offers to go to Israel and tell them about Juba the Sniper.
The elderly former sniper meets with the Mossad. They tell him about an Israeli agent who was shot by a sniper with a very long and impressive shot. They also suspect Juba of firing on a school bus and killing several children. The Mossad tells Bob Lee Swagger that Juba is a Syrian, a Sunni peasant named Alamir Alaqua.
The American sniper suggests taking him out, but the Mossad officers want to have a chat with him.
“But Juba’s secrets are more important than his life,” a Mossad officer tells Bob Lee Swagger. “Who can he identify? What is he working on? … Perhaps most important, what is the source of their considerable funding.
Bob Lee Swagger accompanies the Mossad on a raid that delivers some of the answers to these questions and suggests that the sniper is heading to America. Bob Lee Swagger once again becomes a gun consultant on the FBI/Mossad team as the manhunt for Juba in America begins.
The most important aspect of Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger thrillers is guns. Mr. Hunter gets guns — and he gets guns right. As a gun enthusiast and shooter, he knows guns.
“Game of Snipers” is a suspenseful, interesting and action-packed thriller. I hope Clint Eastwood reads it and thinks about portraying Bob Lee Swagger.
• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.
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GAME OF SNIPERS: A BOB LEE SWAGGER NOVEL
By Stephen Hunter
G.P.Putnam’s Sons, $27, 400 pages