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DEAD ZERO by Stephen Hunter

DEAD ZERO

By Stephen Hunter

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4391-3865-6
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

In Hunter’s latest (I, Sniper, 2009, etc.), Bob Lee Swagger stalks Bob Lee Swagger. Well, just about,

If anyone could be more valorous, more skilled and resourceful, more uncompromisingly upright, and at the same time more downright deadly than Bob Lee Swagger, it would have to be Gunnery Sergeant Ray Cruz. As it is, the men are mirror images of each other, both U.S. Marine templates—super snipers, hands that have never known a tremor, iron-nerved and killer-eyed. When they meet it almost goes without saying that they will admire and respect each other enormously, but it’s a meeting that will happen under desperate circumstances. Cruz has had a task assigned to him that Swagger is charged with interrupting at all costs. Cruz, nicknamed “the Cruz Missile” to suggest his devotion to getting the job done, has been ordered to take out a certain Ibrahim Zarzi, nicknamed “the Beheader,” for reasons that have made him hated and feared up and down the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Suddenly, however, Zarzi seems to undergo an epiphany, which transforms him from a malodorous jihadist into a sweet-smelling American asset, a sea change with an obvious effect on Cruz’s mission. Except that Cruz, who has suffered and survived much during his pursuit of the Beheader, doesn’t buy the varnished version and refuses to back off. Nothing to be done, then, it’s decided in the inscrutable, impenetrable corridors of power, but to haul the 64-year-old Swagger out of retirement and set a super sniper to catch a super sniper. And so the intricate, interchanging game of predator to prey and prey to predator is lethally afoot.

A premise that had a chance to be compelling is diffused by a momentum-killing willingness to digress. Hunter has done much better.