by | Jul 19, 2019 | The Real Book Spy | 5 comments

by The Real Book Spy

Until now, when it comes to the long gun, Bob Lee Swagger’s unique set of skills have gone unmatched on the battlefield. That changes, though, when a man his equal in every way sets his sights on Swagger—who is determined to help a woman in desperate pursuit of exacting justice for her fallen son.

Janet McDowell’s son, Lance Corporal Thomas McDowell, was shot and killed while in Baghdad more than a decade ago. Since then, Janet has spent all her time—and her life savings—searching for the man who pulled the trigger. She even visited the Middle East, spoke to soldiers who served with her son, and hunted for every possible clue—all of which led her to a legendary gunman known only as “Juba the Sniper.” Now, she wants Swagger to travel to a small town in southern Syria to repay the favor by putting a bullet in him from a mile away.

Swagger wants to do the right thing, but after trying to pass the info off to the Israelis, the Nailer quickly realizes that—in order to take on a sniper of Juba’s caliber, his services might just be required . . . and though he’s now in his seventies, Bob Lee suits up once again to see the job through.

Stephen Hunter is at his very best here, and when it came to making my rogue pick this month, Game of Snipers was a no-brainer.

The lucky recipients of a signed copy of Game of Snipers are:
Nancy Northcott, Geoffrey Small and B. Adam Richardson.

From Stephen Hunter:

I indulge. Character flaw or genetic destiny, I’m always on the lookout for ways to give cool stuff to me. I love to award myself little surprises, treats, gizmos, what not. Thus I have about 6,000 used tweed jackets off Ebay for that important Dartmouth Instructor 1957 look. Thus I have far more ties than opportunities left to wear them and whoever picks the shoes for the funeral will have a nightmare. Thus, after years of trying to become the Dostoyevsky of sniper lit, I wrote a Jack the Ripper novel. (Imagine how confused they were at Simon and Schuster!)

And thus the question I ask before beginning a new book is inevitably: What would be the most fun for me? What indulgence is running hottest so that I can draw on for the next few years. A rifle? A milieu? An episode in history? A character type, a plot trick? Whatever, I’m looking for something that will provoke me in such a way that it will generate the most brain electricity and on that charge I may ride happily to the book’s two most important words, “The” and “End.’

But things do change, like it or not, and via some publishing industry machinations last year, (too tedious to explain, if I could even remember them) I found myself in new circumstances. I offered the new folks a couple of zingers I thought–Earl Swagger, disguised as an Army officer, working in Normandy for OSS to counter the extreme German sniper threat in the bocage; and another shot at Jack, who continues to fascinate me. The silence was deafening.

I realized I had to change my approach. First they wanted Bob. All Bob, 24-7. Radio Station B-O-B, from sunny Baltimore. Or Bob at 35. Bob gets amnesia, Bob has an evil twin, Bob vs. the teenage zombies. So I had to give them Bob or move the martini hour to 11 a.m. and drift away on a sea of vodka. And as delightful as that might be, I would eventually regret it. But I didn’t want to go too far into the please-corporate approach. Instead–I guess because I’m so darned heroic– I came up with a new question: What do the wonderful people who love Bob Lee Swagger want most?

It had really never occurred to me to consider them. They had educated my children, bought me an Infiniti Q-60 and all those sport coats, a nineteenth century townhouse and trips anywhere I wanted anytime I wanted. And what did they get out of the deal? Well, they seem happy enough, but maybe we shouldn’t take them for granted.

So this oneGAME OF SNIPERSis for them, and it begins with an answer to that question: What do they want most? This is what I came up with: They want to see Bob take a big shot for all the marbles while facing incoming fire, lives on the line, seconds ticking down. Maybe throw in a helicopter for good measure.

What followed then was first cousin to reverse engineering. I didn’t plot backward, but I asked questions backward to get to a starting point. Who is the bad guy shooting? Has to be high value and there are only a few such high-value jobs available. Who wants him dead? Who is the enemy shooter? What formed him, how good is he, how skilled and courageous and willful? Monster, hero or both?

I also understood that one of the icons of the modern sniper is the algorithm-assisted one-mile shot, across Moon River. I determined to give an accurate account of such a process, as one didn’t exist in the literature yet. It’s not simply a matter of cranking an elevation knob up to 11 and holding real still.

Then, how does he get to the shooting site? What near misses does he have, what people does he meet along the way? How do Bob and the team decipher the clues? How close can they come and how does he always manage to get away? What subsidiary characters does he meet along the way. What politics gum up the FBI team’s investigations, as per my conviction after working in them for 38 years that every office is a snake pit of envy, bitterness, anger, resentment, bad haircuts and stupid Christmas sweaters.

That’s really what the process is: finding little answers to little questions, always on faith and hope, always in trust that somewhere along the line, it’ll work out. What it isn’t is forging the conscience of your race on the smithy of the Mountain Gods.

Stephen Hunter
And the key question: where does the initial intel break that tips off the plot come from? Here I remembered a young graduate of my son’s school, who’d joined the marines and died at Fallujah. His mother, a remarkable woman, alchemized her grief into energy and became a veteran’s counselor at a local university. I thought that was extraordinary and I wanted to acknowledge. I made her a character obsessed with the man who killed her son, who contacts Bob with surprisingly sophisticated intelligence; and out of that comes the plot. I thought also that my Mrs. McDonnell wasn’t the kind of character you meet in thrillers much–late middle-aged, ill-treated by life but at the same time still fighting, even harder. It was a pleasure to bring her in.

There were the usual publishing scuffles and tussles, but in the end, it became what it became, for better or worse and here it is, take it, leave it or just have another drink.

Now only one question remains: What do you people want next?

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  1. Robin Burcell

    Well, naturally, they want the next book from you! What's between those pages… Only an author can decide! (Says the girl trying to fill blank pages herself.) Great post. I really liked the insight into your plotting. Congrats on being this month's Rogue Recommendation!

  2. Lisa Black

    I have to confess, I'm a sucker for the Dartmouth Instructor circa 1957 look!

  3. Rogue Women Writers

    So glad you're here with us Rogues! But where is "Moon River" ?? (I just remember Andy Williams making that one a huge hit – as I'm sure this book will be as well)…Karna Small Bodman

  4. Gayle Lynds

    What a fabulous thriller! So glad The Real Book Spy chose it!

  5. Chris Goff

    Congrats on being July's Rogue Recommendation, and thank you for sharing your insights on writing. I so enjoyed meeting you at ThrillerFest and am excited to read Game of Sniper. It comes highly recommended!