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Interview: Stephen Hunter, Author of the Bob Lee Swagger Thriller 'Targeted'

Author Stephen Hunter talks about his most recent Bob Lee Swagger novel ‘Targeted,' the psychology behind Bob's heroism, and the next in father Earl Swagger book series, “The Bullet Garden.”

Interview: Stephen Hunter, Author of the Bob Lee Swagger Thriller 'Targeted'

 (Portrait image courtesy of Jud Kirschbaum)

If you’re like me and you love both thriller novels and firearms, you’re probably familiar with the works of Stephen Hunter. If you’re not, you’re missing out. Best known for his 1993 novel “Point of Impact,” which was adapted into the 2007 motion picture “Shooter,” Hunter is one of a very few novelists that “gets” the gun culture. That’s because he’s a shooter and firearm enthusiast himself.   

I’ve been a fan of Hunter’s work since, during 8th grade, I read one of his stand-alone novels, 1989’s “The Day Before Midnight.” His storytelling is phenomenal and his style is plain fun to read. The interesting firearms that he weaves into the story are icing on the cake. Despite being in the game for so many years, Hunter’s books still deliver.   

Today, I’m fortunate enough to consider Hunter a friend and mentor. I recently sat down with him to discuss his upcoming book, “Targeted.” “Targeted” follows hero Bob Lee Swagger in his latest tribulation. Caught between an ungrateful Congress searching for a political scapegoat and a group of ruthless terrorists, Swagger does what he does best, exert violence. Unlike Hunter’s previous works, this is a very timely book that was heavily influenced by our current political climate.     

G&A: I’ve noticed that some of your more recent books have melded the thriller and historical fiction genres. I’m thinking specifically about “Sniper’s Honor” and “G-Man.” Is that a function of having an action hero who is in his 70s?


SH: It's actually a function of wanting to write a book set in history but having to write a book with Swagger. That's a reality of the business I'm in. So occasionally I tell two stories, twisted about each other, hoping that it makes sense and that each enhances the other. Whether it works is up to the reader.


G&A: “Targeted” reads as if it was “ripped from the headlines.” You’ve more or less avoided current events in the past, why now?

SH: I felt a certain urgency as prompted by what seemed to me some outrageous behavior. “Targeted” began with the Bret Kavanagh auto-da-fé in the Senate and acquired smoke and fury with the Trump witch trials in the House. I was lucky in that respect as my original bad gal was modeled on Diane Feinstein who's as boring as war surplus French army socks. No amount of snark could bring her to life. When dear friend Nancy went all cuckoo after Trump, it was a godsend because goofing on her natural flamboyance and cuckoo-tastic behavior, as well as her googoo-eyed buddy Adam, was a lot more fun.

G&A: Your villain has a sense of humor and is, in some ways, likable – was that by design? 

SH: Not design so much, but just a part of the dynamic of the wise old guy and dumb young guy thing. Sarcasm and irony just naturally occur in those circumstances, both in my imagination and reality. I also now like to give my villains touches of humanity and decency, feeling that makes them more human. The psycho-monster without redeeming twitch who bathes nightly in pure evil: I can't create him anymore. If you spend a long time on a character he becomes human to you and to portray him as pure monster seems wrong. Mary Shelley knew that as far back as “Frankenstein.”




G&A: We know that you’re a gun guy; what are you shooting these days? 

SH: Anxiously awaiting the arrival of Springfield's updated Hi-Power to area retail. But who isn't? Recently acquired Colt's new Python and a Navy Luger, two of the most beautiful handguns ever made. Now have four variations of the Sig 320--really like that a lot, great on trigger. If I could shoot as well as they do, I'd be a happy boy. Still diddling with red dots, not sure if I'd carry one without 10,000 hours of practice finding that accursed glowing orb, which seems to operate on pure whimsy. But just so you don't think I’m trying to own a thousand guns, I'm also selling a lot including some old favorites! Not easy but necessary.

G&A: Some authors seem to peak in their first book or two and then mail it in. As a longtime reader of yours, it seems that each one is better than the next. What do you credit that to? 

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SH: Very pleased to hear you say that; not sure if I can answer. Maturity, I suppose, familiarity with craft, wearing in neural pathways, whatever. But I have self-serving rationale that it's about hoarding your depletionary amount of concentration. You only get so much a month. Thus I do nothing mentally taxing and avoid the physically taxing like the devil. (Ask my wife!) The idea is to have stuff in the tank at the keyboard. Or maybe it's just a reason not to pick up my socks!

G&A: “Targeted” works in some Swagger family history. When did you come up with the Swagger backstory? Was that something you’ve envisioned over the years or was it just to tie this story together? 

SH: Wanted a psychology for Bob's natural heroism. He wasn't brave because I said he was, he was brave because he was so hurt by the death of his father early that he had an idealized view of Earl and was always trying to live up to it. Hence, I created the Earl backstory in about 30 seconds, thinking nothing of it. Yet it lingered. In some sense the next 30 years sprung from that whimsical 30 seconds and putting it all together was great fun. Incidentally, here's a scoop – very pleased to say Earl is back in '23, big WWII novel called “The Bullet Garden.”

G&A: Some readers might not know that you’re a serious consumer of gun magazines. Who have your favorite gun writers been over the years? 

SH: Always read Mas Ayoob and Craig Boddington. Bruce Canfield knows everything about everything. Too bad Michael Bane gave up writing for TV stardom. Always liked Chuck Karwan and was sad that he died. Greg Ellfritz's Friday drop of self-defense articles on armeddefense.org is a must-read. Many others, but those spring to mind.

G&A: What’s next for the Swagger family? 

SH: After “Bullet Garden” I have in mind a gritty tense film noir-like story set in a tobacco city in 1946. May be called “Johnny Tuesday.” Love the '40s: the guns, the cars, the clothes, the hats, the women, the cigarettes. No satellites, email, moral ambiguity, polyester or global warming.  The only down-side: saddle shoes.

“Targeted” was released Jan. 18, 2022; you can purchase a copy here on Barnes & Noble.

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