BLACK LIGHT by Stephen Hunter


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 The veteran thriller writer's third tale featuring the honorable sniper Bob Lee Swagger (Point of Impact, 1992; Dirty White Boys, 1994). This time out, Swagger has to be coaxed into the fray by a young journalist, Russ Pewtie, who wants to write a book about Swagger's father, Earl, a western Arkansas highway patrolman killed in the line of duty in 1955. Russ's own father is a heroic trooper; there are certain parallels between a case his father handled and the way the elder Swagger died that Russ wants to explore. Bob Swagger has never quite confronted the facts surrounding his own father's murder, but Russ is the impetus he needs, and the two hit the road for the town of Blue Eye. Soon enough, it develops that someone doesn't want the two men snooping. They're nearly ambushed by ten professional gunmen on a forlorn mountain road, but Bob, being very good at his business, turns the tables. The bloody climax is cat-and-mouse stuff using state-of-the-art, heat-seeking nightscopes (the black light of the title), and Hunter ekes out every milligram of suspense, holding back his secrets until the last few pages. The best character here is an old lawyer, Sam, who's simultaneously in mad pursuit of the truth and forgetful of what he's doing. Hunter also has a nice touch depicting race relations in southwest Arkansas--he does not, much to his credit, try to impose modern views on Bob and Russ's fathers or their contemporaries. When Russ does library research, Hunter not only gets the procedure wrong but tries to make the utterly routine seem dangerous and complex, like something from Mission: Impossible. But, overall, the author is compulsively readable: His weapons scenes work, and so does his cliffhanger structure. (Literary Guild main selection; author tour)

Pub Date: May 20th, 1996
ISBN: 0-385-48042-3
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996


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