“Point of Impact” (1993) has been on my alternate list for books to select for Liquorature since the inception, and although I’ve read it some six or seven times and like it more every time, it always failed the “likeability” test: because, while it is an extraordinarily well-paced, intelligent and knowledgeable thriller, it suffers from the fact that it is no more. It’s nothing beyond that. It therefore doesn’t pass my own self-imposed rules. I’ve been trying to get the Last Hippie to read it like forever, but he’s too busy sampling his whiskeys, ignoring my rums and reading other things, so in an effort to attract some additional attention to one of my favourite titles, I post the review here.
In brief: the plot revolves around a fomer Marine sniper called “Bob The Nailer” who lives like a recluse for many years, until brought out of his solitary life by a request to assist in the foiling of a presidential assassination attempt. Since the assassination would be done by a world-class – heretofore-thought mythical – former soviet sniper who may once have shot Bob’s best friend and spotter in Vietnam and ended his career, it explains why Bob’s skills are required and how he is moved to involve himself.
It is not a spoiler to say that Bob fails and is framed for the killing (this all occurs in the first hundred pages or so). And it would be incorrect to say that it’s only then that the book takes off because even before that we are hooked by the arcane lore of the sniper, the evidently well-researched facts about guns and rifles and precision shooting, the recruitment process, Bob himself, and the characters of those who reel him in: Payne, Shrek, Dobbler. But that’s just second gear, because now it’s a question of finding the true perpetrators and escaping a manhunt from both good guys and bad guys. And then….well, for those who are intrigued enough by what I’ve written thus far to give it a shot, let’s just say you won’t be disappointed: this book eclipses “Lion’s Game” in my opinion, though I concede that the dialogue is not as clever or witty. The battle scenes in particular are awesomely well written.
Stephen Hunter is a Pulitzer-prize winning writer and film critic and has created a little fictional universe for his characters (especially Bob and his father). His novels are known for their intricate plotting, with great complexities that are, however, resolved by the story’s end. At the same time, in each novel the exposition is always done from the point of view of one or several characters, in an intensely subjective way peculiar to that character, and this very successfully humanizes what might otherwise seem an overly complicated plot. The combination of these two features is somewhat unusual in modern thriller writing, and may be responsible for some of the novels’ popularity.
A sequel exists called “Black Light” which is unnecessary, but I also highly recommend the last leg of the trilogy “A Time to Hunt,” which fleshes out the Viet Nam years of Bob’s life (and that of his spotter) and has similar attention to facts and details. Note also that the (much lesser) 2007 film “Shooter” with Mark Wahlberg was based on “Point of Impact”, but pussied out in the psychological depth and level of detail that made the novel so memorable and can at best be described as conmpetent.
In summary, I like books that leave me with more than I walked in with and love their own subject matter. “Point of Impact” knows its way around guns and knows about snipers, and these two things are the core of it all, surrounded by hissable bad guys, great good guys and well rounded secondary characters. So if you don’t walk away from this one with your cojones dangling somewhat more weightily than before, well, it’s obvious that you just aren’t sniper material.