Reviews for Third Bullet

Booklist Reviews 2012 October #1
*Starred Review* For nearly 50 years, the world has been obsessing over the assassination of JFK, from grassy knolls to magic bullets. Finally, though, there's somebody on the case who likes to act more than talk: Bob Lee Swagger, former Vietnam sniper and the man you want on your side when it comes down to "straight killing time." When the wife of a murdered thriller writer (with a bio very like Hunter's own) asks Bob Lee to find her husband's killer--and mentions that the writer was working on a book about the assassination (a book very like this one)--it's no surprise that Swagger, who has no interest in who killed JFK, says no thanks. But then the widow tells him that an overcoat that her husband found in a building across the way from the Texas Book Depository had a peculiar stain on the back, as if a bicycle had run over it, and suddenly Bob Lee is very interested indeed. It takes nearly 500 pages before Hunter explains what it all means--with the narrative jumping between 1963 and the present--and while assassination fanatics will likely find all kinds of problems with the scenario he constructs (naturally, it hinges on ballistics, Bob Lee's area of expertise), the rest of us will have no problem willingly suspending disbelief. Best of all, though, the novel isn't just about what happened in Dallas 50 years ago; connected to the unraveling of the JFK story is a contemporary manhunt that takes Bob Lee first to Russia and then to the Connecticut countryside, where, finally, it's straight killing time yet again. Who knows (or cares, really) if Hunter's hypothesis is accurate, but, like Stephen King in 11/22/63 (2011), he has used the assassination to forge a terrific thriller. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Bob Lee Swagger wipes the floor with all the usual suspects connected to the death of JFK--now there's a premise for the ages! Hunter does his subject proud, and the marketing campaign to support the launch will do the book just as proud. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2013 January
Unlocking the mystery of a fateful day

It seems inevitable that Bob Lee Swagger, thriller writer Stephen Hunter’s retired Marine sniper, would one day find a place in the November 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Swagger isn’t the rumored second gunman, mind you, favored by conspiracy theorists as a more plausible presidential assassin than Lee Harvey Oswald. Quite the contrary; in his latest outing, The Third Bullet, the nation’s top fictional ballistics expert takes his best shot at solving America’s most baffling murder mystery—the assassination that marks its 50th anniversary this year.

As The Third Bullet kicks off, the widow of a prominent thriller writer very much like Hunter tracks Swagger down to his Idaho home to ask him to investigate the death of her husband, who was killed in a late-night hit-and-run that may have had links to the Kennedy assassination. Swagger heads to Dealey Plaza, connects with the JFK conspiracy underground, tracks the author’s killer to Moscow and eventually encounters a CIA operative named Hugh Meachum who provides a shockingly plausible alternate answer to the age-old question: Who killed JFK?

By Hunter’s own admission, The Third Bullet was a tough slog between a mountain of hard evidence and a valley of public doubt about what actually happened on that long-ago Dallas afternoon. To flesh out his storyline, the author immersed himself in the Warren Commission Report, took inventory of the various conspiracy theories, then set off like Swagger for Dealey Plaza to have a look for himself.

Fictional ballistics expert Bob Lee Swagger takes a shot at an age-old question: Who killed JFK?

“What I tried to do from the very beginning was establish hard data points, things that everyone knew and all investigators agreed had happened,” he says. “Then I tried to plot between and around them.”

As he looked down from the famous sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository, then sat on the park bench directly below it facing the 90-degree turn that the Kennedy motorcade negotiated before the fatal shot, Hunter’s own hunter’s instinct interceded. The motorcade had slowed to a near-stop for the turn, offering a fish-in-the-barrel shot that even a mediocre marksman like Oswald could have made, compared to the much longer, extremely difficult shot at a moving target as the motorcade pulled away.

“I was stunned,” he recalls. “I looked up and saw the window was about 75 feet away and I thought to myself, good God, why did he not take the easy shot?”

That epiphany unlocked the central mystery of The Third Bullet: If not Oswald, who?

To find a plausible explanation, Hunter recalled a book written by ballistics expert Howard Donahue that theorized Kennedy had been killed by a rogue Secret Service agent shooting from a trailing car.

“It was a thoroughly absurd book and was immediately condemned to purgatory by sentient people, but he understood the science of what happens when a bullet is fired at a man,” Hunter says. In the case of the Kennedy assassination, the third bullet, unlike the previous two, exploded on impact when it hit and killed the president. How could that happen if all three bullets came from the same rifle?

To answer that question, Hunter introduces us to Meachum, a vainglorious Yale-educated veteran of the CIA’s Plans Division with his own secret plans. As frighteningly cold and calculating as Meachum’s story is, Hunter challenged himself by presenting it as excerpts from the man’s diary, his first foray into first-person narrative.

“I wrote that first and I really enjoyed that but there were all kinds of problems,” he admits. “A lot of the effects I get come from cutting and juxtaposing points of view, and it frightened me to get away from those points of view and be stuck in a single head, and yet I found the voice right away. In the end, my problem was shutting Hugh up, not getting him to talk. I discovered a lot of the plotting around Hugh while writing him.”

Hunter, who lives in Baltimore, wrote for the Baltimore Sun for more than 25 years before moving to the Washington Post, where he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for film criticism. He launched the Bob Lee Swagger series in 1993 with Point of Impact, incorporating an encyclopedic knowledge of guns and ballistics, and has gone on to write 17 thrillers.

Did conducting his own investigation into the Kennedy assassination change his view on what happened that dark day in Dallas?

“I suppose I confirmed my suspicions,” Hunter allows. “My theory of the world is that nothing works the way it’s supposed to work, so if anyone argues for perfection, they’re barking up the wrong tree. I wanted my Kennedy assassination conspiracy to be small and adept, but at the same time, mistakes were made, improvisations were made, the whole thing is thrown together on the fly and everybody happens to have a very good day on that day. To me, that was far more realistic than a theory that involves the CIA, Czechoslovakian intelligence and the Mattel toy company and their headquarters is under a volcano. You just don’t believe that.”

Does he agree with Stephen King, who concludes in his JFK speculative novel 11/22/63 that there’s a 99-percent chance Oswald did it?

“That’s how I felt when I started, but now I feel that figure is more like 95 percent,” Hunter says. “There’s a much larger chance than we know that something like [what] I came up with actually happened.”

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 November #2
Bob Lee Swagger comes out of retirement to solve the murder of John F. Kennedy. Lots of people are killed in hit-and-run accidents, but Jean Marquez isn't so sure that her husband was one of them. In the weeks before his untimely death, James Aptapton, an alcoholic writer and gun fanatic whose hero, Billy Don Trueheart, will surely ring a bell for fans of Hunter (Soft Target, 2011, etc.), had been bitten by the JFK conspiracy bug, and his widow has come to Idaho to ask Swagger what he thinks. He thinks he'll pass until she drops one last detail: The ancient raincoat found in an elevator mechanism compartment in the Dal-Tex Building, just yards from the Texas Book Depository, showed signs of being run over by a bicycle. Hunter is at his best in unmasking problems with the evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone gunman--why did the third bullet he allegedly fired at the president explode without leaving any recognizable traces? Why did Oswald cock his rifle once more after the kill shot? Why, after shooting Officer J.D. Tippit three times, did he stop to administer an unnecessary coup de grace?--and proposing an alternative scenario that provides logical answers. But neither the conspiracy he invents nor the people who act it out, from Russian gangsters and oligarchs to a rogue CIA officer determined to protect the nation from Kennedy's policies and the tight little crew he gathers around him, are credible for a moment, and his decision to alternate sections of the chief conspirator's tell-all journals with Swagger's dogged pursuit of him produces less tension than bemusement. If it weren't for the promised firepower at the showdown, all but the staunchest conspiracy buffs would give up midway. An uneven thriller that's unpersuasive as revisionist history but has its points as a hard-knuckled critique of conventional wisdom on the assassination and a portrait of the hapless Oswald. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 September #2
Bob Lee Swagger (Dead Zero) was 17 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but now he has the opportunity to find out what really happened that terrible day in Dallas. Though he's become a cranky old man, he remains a cunning, lethal adversary. When a woman claims that her husband was killed because he was writing a book about JFK, Swagger doesn't believe her. But when someone tries to kill Swagger using the same MO, the chase is on. ­Swagger investigates and realizes there might have been a second shooter, but who was he and why did he do it? VERDICT A fresh take on JFK's assassination makes for the ultimate thriller, and Hunter writes with great skill. Although maybe a little too meticulous and technical for many, it is still highly recommended for JFK fans, conspiracy theorists, and anybody who likes good writing and a engaging thriller. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/12; 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.--Ed.]--Robert Conroy, Warren, MI (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 October #4

In bestseller Hunter's solid eighth thriller featuring master sniper Bob Lee Swagger (after 2010's Dead Zero), Swagger is living an isolated existence in a small Idaho town, where a widow seeking justice for her husband seeks him out. Novelist James Aptapton was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Baltimore, but his journalist wife, Jean Marquez, suspects the killing was intentional. For motive, she points to recent research Aptapton conducted in Dallas, where he was following up on reports that a coat stained with gun-cleaning fluid was found hidden in the Dal-Tex Building next door to the infamous Texas Book Depository. On November 22, 1963, that building could have housed a sniper other than Oswald. After accepting Marquez's request for help, Swagger plunges into the byzantine world of conspiracy theory. Hunter develops some new angles on the JFK assassination, and as usual keeps the details about ballistics and weaponry accessible. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Jan.)

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