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@ K. 2001 07 24

Stephen Hunter, Preface

thanx community

For every Van Gogh who dies unremarked there are multiple counterparts who achieved fame in their own time. Criticism, scholarly appreciation sometimes catches up. Charlie Chaplin was unprecedentedly poplular: eventually criticism followed suit: journalists aren’t completely indifferent to their own bacon (and few scholars are much better than journalists, churning out whatever the “editorial room” wants). Shakespeare was loved by the cheap seats as well as by the crown. Twain had best sellers as well as challenging books that still go unread. (Lucky for him, he wrote the pop books first.) Miles got hooted every time he innovated something else, but somehow he still made more albums than just about anyone. And they sold! despite the forbidding reviews. How many peers never got out of the garret we can never know. (And if we had spy-through-time machines such as Orson Scott Card invents for his Columbus novel, who’s to say we’d know how to listen to what we heard from cave times to the garrets of Greenwich Village or Paris’s Rive Gauche?

Envy is the juice in which the world bubbles
I, Ripper

Run, don’t walk, don’t saunter, to get your own copy of I, Ripper. Fabulous.
If you’re like me you’ll read it in easy reach of Wikipedia, Yahoo, Google … a good dictionary … and Map 2.0, the better to inspect Whitechapel.

A lot of the novelists I adore had achieved fame before I ever heard of them. Stephen King was all the way up to Cujo before I became addicted. (I never heard Miles before 1952, never saw him before 1957. I too was saying “cool” before I heard my first Bird: ie, Miles too.) I’ve “discovered” painters and printmakers ahead of the marketplace (indeed, putting them into the marketplace), but since hiring Bill Haley and the Comets before their first big hit, my discoveries in my favorite arts have followed suit from that marketplace. Still, whereas my favorites usually achieve or had already achieved success, it’s typically success in some side genre: Isaac Asimov (I read his first novel when it was new), Bruce Sterling, Piers Anthony …

The writer I currently can’t get enough of, Stephen Hunter, is the inspiration for adding this section to this module today. And I came upon him in terms related to the above. I wanted a time waster. I was full-up with great literature, with great thinking, great discoveries. I saw the best seller rack in the supermarket, stood there: never heard of any of them. Or, if I heard, I retched: pure prejudice. Tom Clancey? Clive Cussler? Please. Based on pure non-acquaintance with anything but the fact that they sold a lot.
I see Hunter’s Hot Springs. “Elmore Leonard on steroids” blares the cover. How unattractive: who would want the great Elmore Leonard on steroids? But Hot Springs became my choice, the only non-total reject. That was a couple of weeks ago. Now I’ve read five of Hunter’s novels. Point of Impact, Dirty White Boys, Black Light, Time to Hunt, Hot Springs — I list them in order of their publication, not in order of my reading them — and I’m more hooked into their interconnections than I ever was with Faulkner.

Hot Springs’ pic, evaporated

Remember I can put the third of three bullets into
each of you before you feel the first two.
Bob Lee Swagger, Point of Impact

(2013 09 07 Aye, confusion: I’d remembered that line as from Earl Swagger, Hot Springs. I can be wrong, he can quote himself.)

That’s introduction. For today there’s only one point I wish to make. Please recognize that it’s being made by the founder of FIX / FLEX, a frequent user of the term “misinformation,” and the author of essays with titles such as “Misrepresentation.” Throughout the novels bits of information are dropped that sprout into full blown stories in one or another of the novels. Fine. That’s familiar enough. What I adore is that the information often comes to be revealed as misinformation: story becomes mystery. Histories, police reports, family traditions, “facts” … blossom into plants, cover-ups, plots, conspiracies.

One of those natural victims eager to give up
Point of Impact

Perhaps it’s a little bit over-cute that Hunter’s heroes are no philosophers, no scholars, no intellectual giants, but it suits me to a tee that the method by which they solve these mysteries is plain miltary analysis: the kind non-coms too are trained in. So how come the army, the police, the government, the newsmen never get it right? Could it be because these fictions are highly realistic?

2006 01 26 Rereading Hunter these several years later I’m having a terrific time, and feeling itches to add more.

Passion for order
Point of Impact

2006 01 21 A new Hunter novel was supposed to be released in Oct 2005. We’re still waiting. So I’m rereading a favorite: Point of Impact, the second Hunter novel of my original reading order. I love oddball introductions of heroes: Gogol introducing his main character in the last chapter for example; the realization in The French Lieutenant’s Woman that the main character does not appear until the very end … How’s this for a portrait of the hero? (We are seeing Bob Lee through the eyes of a discredited doctor projecting his picture onto a AV screen for a conference of military spies of not-yet-revealed type):

… It was the same expressionless face you saw on the white-trash tough guys, the human tattoo museum and born-to-kill bikers and assault-with-intent pros who did their time in the joint as easily as a vacation, whereas he himself had nearly died from it. That was the fist shock of a cultured man: that in such savagery, some people not only survived but actually thrived.

It’s a shame: five years ago though the Mac was always nearby, and I built data bases like crazy, quotes data bases were not among them. Had I my current habit then, K. would be even more replete with quotes, including a lot of Hunter quotes.

A fury to win or die
Point of Impact

On another hand, it’s just as well. Had I started storing quotes back when, any would be all Shakespeare and Donne and Chaucer. I never would have finished a tenth of my reading, and would seldom have written anything. Boy, I’d have a lot of great quotes though!

2006 01 27 The Dangers of Talent
Re: Stephen Hunter: Point of Impact:
From Chapter Thirty-Three, Deputy Director Howard D. Utey:

He had nurtured contacts carefully over the course of his career, worked diligently, extracted maximum performance from those beneath him, formed relationships with powerful men, shed himself quickly of those who couldn’t perform and, most important, knew the difference, instantly, between those who could and those who couldn’t. He was careful to have men under him who were not quite as bright as he, and he particularly understood the dangers of talent, which was that while it was capable of producing spectacular results, it was just as apt to go off by itself to nurse obscure grudges or lick psychic wounds after gross expenditure of energy. Talent wasn’t consistent or loyal or pliant enough to be trusted; Howard deeply hated talent, and made certain that none of the men who worked for him ever had any talent. He’d driven seven talented men out of the Bureau and only one had stood against him, the idiot Nick Memphis, once so bright and brimming with enthusiasm, carefully betrayed each step of the way, and yet stubborn in his refusal to leave the Bureau.
… Howard didn’t hate Nick. He looked on him as a young man who just never learned the lessons of the team.

If you’re not yourself a talented person you’re not likely to be poking in this module. I think it’s safe to guess that you have your own examples first hand. I bet your talent has gotten you too squeezed out of situations, opportunities, business deals, corporations, schools, churches, universities, for just such reasons as are given above in reference to FBI boss Howdy Duty. And you have friends whose experiences are just as glaring, or worse.

But, if you don’t, just think of Jesus. If you don’t like that example, think of Ivan Illich.

Need more examples? Think of pk. Poke around . I provide examples galore: from my own experience as well as that of others.

2006 01 28 I love at least a dozen of Hunter’s novels, and I love parts of the others. I feel a touch of deadline in the last couple, wholly absent from the earlier novels. And Point of Impact, the second one I read, is definitely one of my favorites. My second reading, completed this morning, may have been every bit as careful as my first.
The novel is reminding me very favorably of another favorite American novel which I read for the second or third time along about when I was first reading Hunter at all, around the turn of the millennium, and that other novel is Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs.
Some themes in common:

A principle character is wholly outside the range of normal human experience.

Bob Lee Swagger is a sniper non pareil; Hannibal Lecter is a peerless psychiatrist. Bob Lee Swagger has killed people in the hundreds; Hannibal Lecter has killed many and cannibalized more than a few.
Each fascinates and is feared by the public.

The Shooter
Marky Mark as Bob Lee
thanx imfdb

Bob Lee Swagger began his killings in Vietnam, a war we were ashamed of at the time, and since. His father came home from WWII a decorated hero; similar exploits got few medals in Vietnam. Hannibal Lecter we learn in subsequent novels survived cannibalism in WWII, a fate his sister did not escape. Lecter is in a maximum security prison for the criminally insane; Swagger, framed for taking a shot at the President, is hunted by the FBI, regular law enforcement, and the CIA-related people who framed him and actually pulled the trigger.

Both characters have ample aspects of the hero, both are scary as hell. Swagger is a Jeffersonian ideal; Lecter is an anarchist ideal.

Both characters have a mirror counterpart in the FBI: agents who hunt them, who come to see (or already saw) virtues in the hunted, and who come to be converted by the hunted, team up with them.
Both agents are talented, resourceful, and have integrity: both agents get screwed, repeatedly, by the hierarchical bureaucracy of the Agency.
In the Harris novel agency brass are corrupted by ambition as well as by the limitations of their talents; in the Hunter novel agency brass have one foot in the public interest, the other in terrorism and foreign intrigue, and another organ poking ambitiously.
In both novels integrity triumphs. Both Swagger and Lecter have gallons more integrity than the FBI: or the public.
They contrast, but they’re similar.

Black Light Hey, I say this to you, motherfucker, you got some balls on you, my friend. You cubano? Maybe Desi Arnez done fucked your mama when your daddy was out fucking the goats.
I don’t think so. We didn’t have no TV.
Defeated assassin as he dies
Bob Lee

2006 02 14 The guy who put up the Hunter web site says that each novel at the time you’re reading it, no matter which one, no matter the order of your reading, is the best. Cute, and there’s some truth there. I’ve read them all, starting with Hot Springs at the time Hot Springs was newly in paperback. I liked it, I liked it a lot, and soon reached for Point Of Impact; but it was only once I started to see how the characters and stories interrelate over several novels that I started to realize how extraordinary they are.
In no context, A Tapestry of Spies may be my favorite. Dirty White Boys may have been my least favorite at the time of reading; but now that I see their interrelationship, I beg you: Try Point Of Impact early if not first, And make sure you’ve read Dirty White Boys before you pick up Black Light.

Any of the Swagger novels ties in with the others, but Black Light was the first to tie complex knots, and to tie knots in the knots.

What they thought would guide how they behaved.
Black Light

For several years now I’ve been champing at the bit for a Frenchie Short novel to tie in with the Swagger novels. We’ve been told again and again that Frenchie is dead, tortured to death, but until we see it play out as action right before us, I don’t believe it.
In fact I love no aspect of Hunter more than the fact that

fact after fictional fact turns out to be falsehood.

A string of novels had told us how Earl died: simple story, the case was closed; until Bob Lee started digging further in Black Light. And what he finds, however welcome, is nothing compared to what else he finds: a little extra tie to the great villain of Dirty White Boys.

2006 02 16 Now rereading Time to Hunt I’m still harking back to Black Light: we have a meticulously developed villain. At the end Bob Lee confronts the villain. The villain had known he was being tracked but believed he had solved the problem, that Bob Lee had been eliminated. The villain admits to being the villain, unrepentant resigns himself to his fate (like the dying Cuban above). But Bob Lee explains to the villain that he’s not the villain; the idiot standing next to him is. Then, very rapidly, unpredictables resolve very satisfyingly. Amazing. I’ve never seen that trick before. And even though I’d seen it before, even though I remembered it, the actual details of the mechanism were beautiful and fresh.

No government can rule you absolutely. Yours is always the last option.
Point of Impact

2001 08 24 Alas, I’ve now read them all. Nothing more to reach for. My reading of The Second Saladin exhausts the inventory. Have to wait till the next one comes out: six months if I’m lucky. I’ve already been waiting too long for the next in the Piers Anthony Geodyssey series. I’m very pleased to discover that the early novels are first rate: also relieved to confirm my expectation that they came to be at their best (and continue to be so) about ten, not twenty, years ago.
It feels more wonderful than contrived to meet the same characters from novel to novel. I had no idea in reading Hot Springs that Hunter fans would already have known the end of Frenchy Short’s career for twenty years before meeting the beginning of it. I hope the saga goes on forever.

2001 09 18 Today I watched the movie Enemy at the Gates: Jude Law as Vassily Zaitsev, Soviet Hero, 1942 sniper against the Nazi invasion of Stalingrad. A memory flickered. At the library I flipped back through Anthony’s Muse of Art. Sure enough: the peerless Piers had cameoed Zaitsev in the Stalingrad section of that synthesis of human history: past, present, and near future. Hunter wrapped up the last two decades of the Twentieth Century by imagining great stories about snipers. Piers picks it up in 1999. And now a big deal movie romancing Zaitsev? What’s going on? When I was a kid, snipers were just scary bad guys in the distance: cheaters. Enemy at the Gates spoils everything by having the great Russian sniper face the great Nazi sniper not quite mano a mano but at least eye to eye. Hollywood kicks against what Hunter did.

2001 November Hunter’s Pale Horse Coming was released. I got a promise from Amazon to ship in late October but something screwed the order up and I didn’t get the book I’d been salivating for since reading the teaser for it in Hot Springs months and a dozen Hunter books earlier. I finally OD’d. Too much of a good thing. The book seemed a bit much. Silly. What would I have thought if I’d taken more time? read them in a different order?

2002 04 14 Amazon flagged me that people who bought Pale Horse Coming had also bought novels by Thomas Perry. What the hell, I gave him a try. The first attempt fizzled: but now I’m glad I tried another: then another. The Butcher’s Boy is a marvel. So too is Sleeping Dogs. I just finished Dance for the Dead and enjoyed it enormously. (I did have one reservation toward the end, Hunter-related as a matter of fact, but I’ll leave it unmentioned.)

2003 05 01 I’d worked hard by the 2001 08 24 note above to feret and read all Hunter novels. I’d searched his (fan-mounted) web site; I’d searched the library, I’d searched … I’d made a list: a dozen novels and one collection of film criticism. I’d searched the web for Hunter film reviews not included in the collection. I went out of my way to read current Hunter reviews. … And in a recent visit to Amazon, these twenty-odd months later, I scrounged up an unfamiliar title: Tapestry of Spies. Further probing in Amazon failed to produce a publication date. Was it new? published since Pale Horse? Was it a retread: a publisher’s palming off an old novel under a different title? I bought it, fully expecting to recognize it, if not one sentence into the body, then certainly by a few paragraphs or pages. Sure enough: it is a retread: formerly titled The Spanish Gambit. But, despite that, it’s new to me. Hallelujah. Three hundred pages into it, I tell you it’s really, really something: and getting even better with every page. The Spanish Revolution: the war of all against all: everyone a double-, triple-, quadruple-agent.

God, Stink, I admire the Germans. They really do do things, don’t they?
Bloody pity they do the wrong things.
Tapestry of Spies

2003 October Ah, glory, the new Hunter is out: Havana: Earl Swagger is unknowingly recruited to kill Castro: 1953: before Castro becomes a force. Ah, but just as Swagger is being run by puppeteers, so too Castro is being run by an old commie:

… this one will never give up politics. He’s too idiotic.

2003 10 20 Now I’m very glad that I didn’t find Tapestry of Spies until recently: Havana relates to it wonderfully! Indeed, the fabulous old commie in the new novel was a student of the fabulous old commie in the earlier one.

2013 09 07 What a pleasure to be reminded of all this. And RIP Elmore Leonard! Hunter. What great artists! Harris, Anthony.

2014 09 09 I gulped all the Hunter I could, fast, till I’d read all his novels, then I read them as they came out, slavering, panting, while waiting. Then it was enough, it was too much, I’d had it: they were good, but were no long unique, however rich the mine the gold had mined out. Why shouldn’t he stretch his brain to make another million dollars, but not from me. So, the library had a couple of titles I’d never encounteredd when I browsed last week. I grabbed the one called Snipers Honor, gulped it.

I was droning to myself, More of the same; then: no wait, this is great, this is among the best!!

Bob Lee Swagger was a bald tire several novels ago: here he is, sixty-eight years old, so what, I was near my best at sixty-eight, almost a decade ago. Poverty and jail and suffocating isolation have kicked the stuffing out of me since then, but I have a little left … But never mind: the hero here is a real hero, a soviet sniper, female! good looking!

Ludmila Petrova
Ludmila Pavlinchenko in WWII
Hunter’s Mili Petrova

I love it, it’s a tour de force, but: I think it had at least one redraft-generated error:
The Peasant, wonderful minor character, gouges his own eyes out so the Nazis won’t be able to use him to track Mili, later, they’re reunited, and he can see fine. Without eyes?!

You gotta read the novel if only to see how many balls he juggles while milking a dead cow.


One thing that addicts me to Hunter is much like what addicted me to Akira Kurosawa: he uses things I hate, war, fighting, thugs murdering each other — skillfully, courageously — to mesmerize. Me, Christian pk, got mesmerized.
You know, if life just fails, fails to sustain, to evolve intelligence, if dishonesty trumps honesty over the millennia, so what? it’s boring, but Hunter makes the world going ballistic fascinating, what heroic throw-away prose.

Backward, Multiple Perspectives, in Time
2015 01 22 I’ve known a little Henry James prose since high school. I’ve known a lot more Henry James since. I know nearly all of Hunter’s novels; by no means do I know half of James’. Now, coming in tandem: we know our mother among the first things in our life: the midwife, the doctor, puts you on your mother’s breast. You may be the rabbi’s son, but you’ll know your mother’s breast before you know Moses. As you grow though Moses may be more important than your mother. I knew James a long time before I knew Hunter: but then I went mad for Hunter! Funny, now I’m reading James’ What Maisie Knew (aloud, with Jan). And damn if I don’t see that James did, always did, something I got excited over in Hunter!
We read Maisie’s experience through Maisie’s eyes. She’s not the narrator but the narrator shows himself to be intimately involved with her experience. Maisie is young, inexperienced: a child. Gradually Maisie matures a bit, her intelligence develops, she sees “the same thing” a second, then a third way. In Chapter V or VI is suspect that by the end the reader, that is, Jan and I, will see that Maisie came to know a great deal. I expect wisdom from this child once she’s a teen.
While James shows us Maisie experience a-forming, he also shows us hints of her mother’s mind, her father’s, her maid’s, her governess’ … her other governess, maid, attendant … (And the while we witness James‘ mind.)

By golly, Hunter is a smart guy: it wouldn’t surprise me if he had James in mind when creating some of his tricks. Not only does Hunter save surprises till the end of a novel, he saves surprises till the next novel after that, maybe in a series you didn’t see coming, maybe in a series Hunter didn’t see coming! The characters, the events interrelate, then interrelate some more.

I, Ripper
2015 12 02 It had to happen eventually: I encountered a Hunter novel that mixed chore and thrill in a proportion with too much chore. Partly it’s my deteriorating eye sight, reading anything is difficult, physically: discouraging, exhausting. So I’m failing. But I find here that Hunter too fails in greater part than usual.

One problem may be unique to me: a major surprise turns out to involve an actual historical person I know a great deal better than most. But I think some of Hunter’s tricks are simply ill advised regardless of knowing the personage. But: I found myself quoting the brilliant writing against and again: throughout K. Wow, wow, and more wow; but not entirely Wow.
I’ll say further that some of the ugliness of the writing, though called for in part by the ugliness of the theme, some, is gratuitious, unnecessary, plain ugly, plain awful.
My dear Jan had the problem right away. She didn’t even want to hear the whole of the passage I’d selected as a riveting portrait on London in 1888.

More Hunter
Gentleman James

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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