GAME OF SNIPERS: Five Questions with Stephen Hunter

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 in Stephen Hunter’s all-new thriller, Game of Snipers, when a legendary shooter 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. 

A longtime reader of Hunter’s series, I always look forward to the next Bob Lee book, and this time around, I found myself glued to the pages like never before. Without question, this is one of Stephen Hunter’s best novels to date, and getting to see the Nailer go toe-to-toe with another expert sniper is worth the price of admission alone. 

Just ahead of the book’s release, Hunter agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about this book and what his approach was when writing it. Let’s just say, I think his explanation for how he came up with the story idea is enough to have readers pre-ordering Game of Snipers in bunches. And trust me, you’ll be so glad that you did. 

Check out the Q&A below, then click here to order your copy of the latest Bob Lee Swagger thriller. 

 

Game of Snipers

 

 

TRBS: First of all, I’ve read every book you’ve ever written–I’m a huge fan–and I really think Game of Snipers is some of your finest work yet. How did you come up with the story idea for this one?

Hunter: “I proceeded backwards. Usually, I ask myself: What book do I want to write next? It’s like getting married because you’re going to be with your choice for a long time, through thin and thick. You don’t want to make a mistake. But this time I asked: What book do my readers want me to write next? I came up with: they want to see the Nailer nail. That is: to see Bob take a big shot for all the marbles with incoming fire, the clock ticking down and generally great duress. Starting at that point, I realized Bob had to be the counter-sniper, shooting to prevent the enemy sniper from hitting a high-value target. So I reverse engineered, scene by scene. Who would the high-value target be? Who would want him hit? Who would shooter be? What would his preparations be, on back to, What was the source of original intelligence breakthrough? Somehow, it produced a book. Will I try it again, as in, What would Bob’s readers NEXT want me to write? Hmm, let you know when I figure out.”

TRBS: What sort of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write, and does any of that research involve shooting some of the weapons featured in your books? 

Hunter: “I knew mile-long shots had and were happening and I decided to build the book around that technical challenge. It hadn’t been done realistically yet and I’ve always tried to keep the material factual, knowing that many appreciate the effort. The trick here is to find a balance between too much tech and not enough. Of course, I told myself I absolutely HAD to buy a new rifle for research and so yes, I spent some big bucks on a state-of-the-art Accuracy International and a big-ticket S & B scope. It turned out I was right haha, and working with it was extremely illuminating. Alas, a hip went blooey at a certain point, so I wasn’t able to do as much long-distance shooting as I had wanted. Treating myself to a new one after book tour, and with new hip and new rifle look forward to an amusing fall.”

TRBS: Bob Lee Swagger has proven to be a juggernaut in the thriller world, enjoying the kind of staying power rarely seen in today’s literary world. Did you ever think back in 1993 when Point of Impact came out that you’d still be writing about this character twenty-six years later?

Hunter: “No idea. Never in a million . . .  ARKANSAS? Are you kidding? And yet each book raised questions and the only way to answer them was to access my unconscious and the only way to do that was to write another book. Discoveries all the time. Who knew Sam loved Connie? Who knew Charles had a melancholy streak of self-loathing? Who knew Bob’s younger brother committed suicide? I found it fascinating and was much more drawn to family issues than I thought I could or would be. Now I look back and I think: Who wrote all this stuff? And it helped, of course, that the people of Arkansas were splendid and welcoming, and that the state was so beautiful.”

TRBS: Who are some of your all-time favorite authors, and are there any newer writers in the thriller genre that you currently enjoy reading? 

Hunter: “I read very little these days as my most precious raw material is concentration. This, I explain to my wife, also accounts for the fact that I no longer pick up my socks. She is not impressed. I was, of course, a voluminous reader for decades and my heroes were le Carre, Chandler, Ambler, Condon, Harris, and, looming over them all, Hemingway. Now and then I go back, but it’s like visiting an old lover: it’s just not the same, because although the book hasn’t changed, you have. LOVED The Young Lions as a boy, and a few years ago I took it up again, and I just drifted off. It’s around somewhere, permanently turned to page 243.”

TRBS: Lastly, now that this book is set to come out, what is next for you and Bob Lee moving forward? 

Hunter: “I am currently working on a Bob in which I deal with many issues his career has raised but not answered, particularly as our values and expectations change. As you might imagine, I still believe in the Old Red Gods, and this book will express that fealty to masculine duty, heroism and decency.”


 

Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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