PALE HORSE COMING by Stephen Hunter


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The Hunter assembly line cranks out another of his gunzapoppin’ thrillers.

With a nod to Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes, Hunter has his stalwart ex-Marine and Congressional Medal of Honor winner Earl Swagger (Hot Springs, 2000, etc.) recruit seven legendary gun-hands to join him in one of those dirty jobs somebody has to do. The time is 1951, and the remote, unbelievably savage Thebes Prison Farm lies half-buried in a Mississippi swamp. How Earl managed to become incarcerated in this place of lost souls is a twisting tale rooted in an American samurai's inflexible code. Never betray a friendship: words Earl lives by, and when Sam Vincent fails to return from a certain mysterious mission Earl knows he has no choice but to find him, free him, and restore him to the bosom of his family. Which he does. Breaking Sam out of Thebes, however, proves no better than an even exchange. A sadistic sheriff, a conscienceless warden, and a band of corrupt, black-hearted minions now have Earl in their clutches, a prospect filling them with delight. (Think imbecilic boys pulling wings off flies.) Relentlessly—and, ugh, gratuitously—they torture him within an inch of his life. But Earl being Earl, he survives and eventually escapes. No way, he decides grimly, that a hellhole like Thebes can be left to its own devices and sets about assembling his crack demolition force: seven storied, if grizzled, gunslingers, old-timers, but still as lethal as ever they were. They strike at night, kill in bunches, and when—the smoke having cleared—the geezer brigade lowers Colts, Winchesters, Thompsons, etc., Thebes once again is history.

A case of a successful formula overworked. The result? The pacing slackens noticeably, and the writing, particularly the dialogue, can seem downright slapdash.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2001
ISBN: 0-684-86361-8
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2001


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