Stephen Hunter’s latest in the Bob Lee Swagger novel floats between two time periods as the author spins his own narrative on the classic 1930s bank robbery stories that famously included John Dillinger and a host of other public enemies. Charles Swagger is hired to help track down Baby Face Nelson, a dangerous thug who appreciates the details and all that goes with the act of killing. This narrative interlopes on one of Swagger’s grandson, Bob Lee Swagger, who 80 years later finds a gun and cash on the family property he is selling and sets off to investigate the mysterious items. Along the way Bob realizes he is being followed.
Hunter’s new novel is an action-packed mystery that appears most comfortable when describing to the reader how guns make the characters feel. The bravado, the steely eyed caricatures, the hyper masculinity posited into the novel is exactly what one would come to expect of a book that shows a character spending time with a gun as a way to learn about his family history. And yet, it is the smaller moments in the novel that keep G-Man curious enough to continue on through the ultra-violent scenes. Bob’s search for his family identity gives Hunter a framing device with enough emotional resonance that it pushes the reader to finish the book, even as some of the constant gun-toting becomes exhausting.