Saturday, August 21, 2010

Novel Review: Steven Hunter’s Point Of Impact

Okay, so I’m a bit late to the Steven Hunter party. It looks like Point Of Impact was first published in 1993. I realize now that I’ve got some catching up to do.

You may have seen the movie Shooter (2007). Mark Wahlberg (a.k.a. Marky Mark, I’m sure he’d love the reference) is a sniper who gets framed for taking a shot at the U.S. president. I had seen the movie, but pretty much had forgotten all about it.

The high point of the movie, I vaguely remember. The main character, Bob Lee Swagger, the sniper, cuts down the man who really took the shot at the president, and then mows down a squad of shooters sent by the organization that framed him, aided somewhat by the FBI agent that believes he’s innocent. It’s maybe 12 minutes of shoot-em-up without much in the way of catch-phrases or billion dollar special effects, and it wasn’t enough to make a big impact at the box office. I don’t want to say that this is a minor part of the book, but the kicker in the novel is the surprise ending, which they did put into the movie. In the movie it only fizzles, and falls flat.

Let’s not get hung up on the mediocre movie though.

The novel starts out with Bob Lee waiting for a monster buck, near his home in the Oichita mountains in Arkansas. Bob Lee lives alone in the woods with his dozen or so rifles, a 1911, and a few thousand rounds of ammo, and has very little contact with anyone. He goes into town to pick up his mail, and to buy food now and then, but for the most part he just keeps to himself up in the mountains with his dog.

A few chapters in, you’re introduced to the villain, Col. William A. Bruce (retired), a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, who is played by Danny Glover in the movie. Col. Bruce needs a shooter, a real killer. He kicks some names around with his cronies. He rejects the suggestion of Carl Hitchcock (an obvious reference to Carlos Hathcock), because he’s made too much money selling books, and giving speeches at Soldier of Fortune conventions and whatever. Bruce wants “Bob the Nailer.” Bob Lee racked up 80-something confirmed kills as a Marine Sniper in Vietnam, with a few dozen more that couldn’t be confirmed. Pardon me, make that “The ‘Nam.”

Bruce goes up the Bob Lee’s place, along with Jack “Payne-O” Payne. Payne does the dirty work for Bruce, and he comes along to Bob’s place as a bodyguard. . . with a short barreled shotgun under his coat.

Bruce gets Bob Lee to come out to Maryland to do some shooting. He’s conviced Bob that he’s representing an ammo brand called Accutech. He gives some cock-and-bull story about using lasers to make the world’s best rifle ammo. Really what they are doing is laying the framework of a frame-up. They boost Bob’s ego, and then reveal that they’re tied up with Secret Service, and they have information that the Russian that shot Bob in the hip, and killed his spotter, has been hired by terrorists, and is planning on taking a shot at the President of the United States.

So Bob scouts some of the locations that the President will be visiting, and it seems that there is only one obvious choice. Col. Bruce talks Bob into sitting behind a spotting scope the day of the President’s speech, the day that the assassination is to take place. The trap is sprung, and Bob gets shot a couple times, but escapes. They set it up like Bob took the shot, and was shot by a police officer as he was making his escape. As Bob crashes out of the house, he practically lands on Nick Memphis, FBI agent, working with Secret Service. Bob takes Nick's Smith & Wesson 1076 10mm, and his government-owned car.

Nick had been in charge of going through the “Charlies,” random whackos, people who wrote letters to the government with too many exclamation points, people who just barely made it onto the radar of the Secret Service. Allegedly, Bob Lee had sent such a letter, and made it into the “Charlies.” Having been a former FBI sniper, Nick knew of “Bob the Nailer,” and didn’t consider him a real threat, and decided not to bump him up into the “Bravo” or “Alpha” groups.

So now it looks like Bob took a shot at the President, and took Nick’s service piece and car in the process. Nick is in hell, career-wise.

I may have gotten some of the details a little wrong, but that's mostly how it goes.  If I tell you the rest, it will spoil the book for you, so I’m going to end the summary there.

I highly recommend this book. I wasn’t real sure if I would enjoy it at the start. I guess I’m kind of out of my “sniper phase,” but there is a lot of “gun culture” written into the book, besides the sniper stuff. After the shooting, you get to read the newspaper articles as Bob Lee reads them. I got a kick out the inane comments about the “telescopic-powered assault rifle.” Real pro-gun-ban newspaper articles are sometimes that bad.

The book is about 500 pages, and they’re pretty long pages too, but I never thought, “oh, just get on with it already, dammit.” Although I guess I really knew how it would end about half way through, you don’t find out how it happens until like the last 30 pages. There’s a big hint near the beginning, but after a few hundred pages I had pretty much forgotten about it.

If you’re a reader, and you have the time, pick up a copy. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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