'The Third Bullet' Review: Stephen Hunter Unwraps Savvy New Theory on JFK's Death

'The Third Bullet' Review: Stephen Hunter Unwraps Savvy New Theory on JFK's Death

Retired Marine Sniper Bob Lee Swagger and former Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter are back with The Third Bullet and, after more than 20 years together thrilling audiences with stories of war and the art of the hunt, the two men have teamed up for the novel they were always meant to pull off.

In a move that is rather genius in its simplicity, Hunter has taken his old protagonist and thrown him a mystery that has haunted America for 50 years: who killed President John F. Kennedy? Everybody’s got a theory. Some say it was Communists, some say it was aliens, others may even tell you it was a Tea Partier sent back in time.

However, Hunter has no time for foolish conspiracies. In his novel he presents a theory that is ridiculously plausible that is supported and sustained by the one thing most readers love about Hunter: his substantial knowledge about firearms. 

The Third Bullet opens with what is Hunter’s most original and creative first chapter (and this is the man that wrote the opening to Dirty White Boys). He kills off a man that creepily and humorously resembles Hunter himself. The thriller writer is killed by automobile when he comes just a bit too close to solving the JFK conspiracy. The man’s wife hunts down Bob the Nailer and Bob is off with a new mystery to solve. He goes everywhere from Moscow to Texas, fighting off bad guys the only way he knows how: with guns and lots of ’em.

The reason Hunter’s novel is so strong is because it’s not just another clever thriller or adventure for Swagger. Hunter has taken a legitimate mystery and he uses his own expertise and Swagger’s to apply gun knowledge to the mystery and present a theory that many others haven’t touched over the years. I won’t give away the details, but it’s damn good.

Most of Hunter’s readers know the ins and outs of firearms and love Hunter for his details when it comes to weapons and his accuracy in representing them. Those fans will love this book because never has Hunter’s gun knowledge or gun play been so well or heavily displayed on the page.

Hunter’s other talent (and sometimes saving grace) is that he is a born writer. Other writers like Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler can become bores when they drag on and on about whatever new toy they are describing (whether it be a submarine or an artifact or whatever). They take readers completely out of the story to give endless facts and figures while Hunter weaves such details into his storytelling. It’s incredibly unique and only goes to show that Hunter is at the top of the list when it comes to modern thriller writers.

Besides the central mystery, The Third Bullet still has a lot to offer. It’s not one book, but two. We get Swagger’s story and we also get the first-person account of the main conspirator in the JFK assassination (his identity is a nice surprise for longtime Hunter readers). Hunter weaves these two books together, so we get a thrilling account of not just Swagger’s adventures, but an account of the day of Nov. 22nd, 1963 as well.

From its brilliantly amusing opening to its powerful final moments, it’s easy to sense that The Third Bullet is the novel Hunter and Swagger were always meant to create. It’s the culmination of years of writing, shooting and learning. It’s the novel that sets in stone the fact that Hunter is a damn good writer and Bob Lee Swagger is a damn fine hero. And if the final moments of The Third Bullet are to be believed: these two old birds ain’t done yet.


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