Nathaniel Gage's Reviews > Point of Impact

Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter
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May 28, 12

Read in May, 2012

Before I start a review of this book, there's two caveats that I should probably address. The first is that I have a deep and abiding interest in guns and all the information that surrounds them, which makes the information in this book—length of pull, turned case necks, all kinds of manufacturers and statistics that are too numerous to name—a pleasure to read about rather than a chore. It's not everyone's cup of tea, and I know and respect that. But this is my own opinion, and it was just the icing on the cake for what is already a very well written book. The second caveat is that I already saw the movie which was (loosely) based on this novel, called Shooter, and starring Mark Wahlberg. Having seen it, I could at many times predict what was going to happen and had a more intimate knowledge of the characters.

Anyway, on to the good stuff.

I don't read a great deal of what you'd call thriller novels. One or two on occasion, usually while I'm on vacation. In the past, a great deal of Tom Clancy, which I always feel inexplicably guilty for having read. Don't ask me why. But reading thrillers on the whole is something that leaves me feeling like my time could have been better spent, as if there were novels with deeper plots, better developed characters, generally more complexity to them.

Point of Impact, however, ignored all my feelings and went straight for the kind of themes I love, and threw in some truly memorable characters along with plot twists that just kept catching me by surprise. I read it in two days after I first picked it up and like any good book it would not let me go, whether because I wanted desperately to know if one character or another was still alive, or whether I viciously hated another and wanted to see the main characters bring him to justice—one way or another.

A lot of people give Bob Lee Swagger, the main character of this book, a bad rap for being who he is. Sure, he's a backcountry hermit who lives with his guns and devotes himself to them as one might a lover, and to most that will make him irredeemably crazy. But anyone who focuses on that is ignoring several important details, not the least of which is the fact that the U.S Marines teach that kind of singleminded dedication to one's weapon, and that Swagger has used this dedication to overcome vices such as drinking to excess.

To be sure, his character is painted in broad strokes at times, and when he lapses back into a Southern drawl for long periods where it seemed before that he hadn't had it before, it can be a little hard to take with a straight face. But he's not what you'd call stereotypical. He reads some of the famous nature writers, like Emerson and Thoreau. He writes and types because he enjoys it, and has a gift for it—though many do not see it in him. And he has a gift for hard work, not just in terms of shooting but of planning, along with the nearly inhuman patience required for the setup work of long-range shots.

I won't detail the other characters too much, but suffice to say that there are some that I adore and some that I loathe, and while only a couple feel as real as Bob I think that's all the reader really needs. The real centerpiece of the book is the plot, in any case.

With conspiracies that run so deep and wide they make your head spin, strategies and tactics that seem to defy the abilities of human reasoning, and enough plot twists to keep you consistently on your toes, Point of Impact is typical of the thriller genre. But what makes it believable is the scale: the plot isn't to end the world, not to wipe out an entire country. It's to kill one man and save the asses of a few people who by all rights should be in jail or on death row. Given the world we live in today, that's a lot more believable, and makes the book seem a good deal more realistic and down to earth. Apart from the rifles, there's not much gadgetry, either. Even the 'bad guys' are crammed into musty old trailers, not much better off than the characters they're hunting.

I won't say that this book is perfect. There's not a few points where I grew bored while I was reading, particularly during FBI agent Nick Memphis' long blocks of description. Bob grew to caricature proportions on occasion, and some of the feats that he accomplished were simply too big to be believable. But if you manage to forgive these small mistakes, you'll find Point of Impact to be a rewarding book that will take you for a hell of a ride.
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