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on May 8, 2016
As Stephen Hunter's Bobby Lee Swagger is getting on into the Metamucil and Medicare phase of his life, the focus of his escapades have been nudged ever so slightly to the cerebral and away from action. In this installment, Swagger is injected into the never ending JFK assassination conspiracy theory parallel universe that operates with its own unique brand of physics. Swagger is dragged into this mess while investigating the killing of an author researching JFK. As Swagger enters the fray with his Columbo style detective work, it becomes apparent that someone is quietly watching everything and intervening when anyone looks close to connecting the right dots. With minimal backup from official law enforcement and assistance from peripheral players, Swagger is able to flush out the original mastermind.

The tale is related as two stories, Swagger's detective efforts and the diary entries of the 1963 mastermind who engineered the hit on JFK. Hunter has crafted a well designed theory that is consistent with the official Warren report as well as interweaving odd, ancillary clues. Unfortunately, the detective work offers little in the way of good tradecraft and is more dependent on Swagger's insight and epiphanies. The actual gunfights are well rendered, but few and far between. The diary of the mastermind is largely the embellished rantings of an over the top narcissist with a flare for British dandiness, that puts a drag on plot development, slows the pace, and lengthens the story considerably.

There's a James Bond / Spectre quality where unbeknownst to Swagger, he has been in the mastermind's sights ever since beating him to the punch of securing a special Russian weapon back in the Vietnam era. Finally, the notion of a former CIA agent faking his own death and then winding up fantastically wealthy as a Russian oligarch and spending his vast fortune for 50 years of surveillance of JFK crackpots is a bit hard to swallow.
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on August 25, 2014
You'll not get a very "fair and balanced" review from me. There are certain authors and their characters who get a pass from my critical faculties - Jack Reacher, Joe Pike, Derek Strange, Charlie Hood, et al. - and Bob Lee is one of them, but for what it's worth and considering the source (me), I still think that "The Third Bullet" is a darn fine book.

Hunter has alternating sections narrated by Bob Lee and Meachum, two men from wildly different backgrounds, and yet, Hunter gets the voices of the Arkansas Marine sniper and the Beltway CIA operative Yalie just right and entertainingly so.

I am not among those who believe in some giant conspiracy in the death of JFK, but I thoroughly enjoyed the what-if premise of this novel. Hunter works off a couple of "facts" and builds a compelling case for a fascinating conspiracy that has just enough "truth" in it to draw you in.

Hunter often apologizes for all of the gun trivia in his books, but I feel that it enhances the narrative - and sends me to the internet to research the guns and companies that he mentions - especially in this book where he often alludes to the history of various American and foreign gun manufacturers. Whether we like it or not, there are ways in which guns ARE the history of the world and command the attention of anyone who is seriously interested in the history of mankind - for good or for ill.
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A tour de force by Hunter; as indicated in the title; a real labor of love. But to be clear this book was not written for everyone. Hunter wrote this book primarily for those of us who have a genuine interest in small arms and the minutia that accompanies a knowledge of their operation.

Clearly Hunter rejects the single shooter of the Warren Commission, as do many knowledgable gun aficionados. Hunter details the problems of the single shooter theory and offers a plausible theory of how another shooter could have been employed. Hunter also points out some of the really bizarre inconsistent behavior of Lee Harvey Oswald. I doubt that any definitive new facts will occur in my life; at least Hunter comes up with a suggestion of an alternate theory based on disparate little known facts and melds the together. Additionally Hunter wrote an exciting yarn while he was up.

Since I wrote the first two thirds of this review someone has offered another theory about what might have happened in Dallas. The suggestion is that one of the Secret Service men accidentally fired an M16 and hit the back of Kennedy's head. Possible. But, to be clear Hunter is only suggesting an alternate possibility. Like many he rejects the single gunman theory based on synthesized knowledge not easily explained to a novice in a single paragraph or page. Sure it is possible; in the same way two different people have the same DNA is possible.

One of the best of this genre.
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on April 17, 2013
Great thing about Hunter is, he knows guns. Not just make, model, & caliber, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can do that, but Hunter knows ballistics, velocity, trajectory, bullet grain, bullet behavior, etc. This all comes with actually being a "gun guy" as Hunter puts it. He lives and breaths it.
In a time when so much of our population discredits firearms, because they live in a world were guns only matter in films and television. They think guns will never impact on their life, and maybe they won't. But when your thought is to not have a thought about something until a tragedy happens, your initial response is to demonize, but for everyone else, they already know their dangerous and live their life accordingly, with a healthy fear of them. Kinda like when you use a chainsaw. You gotta use it, but you know to be careful with it. That's how firearms are.
Hunter shows us how guns DO matter, that to have even a basic understanding of their function, handling, & safety does, in fact matter.
Guns matter, Hunter shows us this by looking at the Kennedy assassination in a COMPLETELY new light. The gun light to be exact. No one has looked at the Kennedy Assassination from this angle before. Oh, sure, everyone knows the type and caliber, but that's only a scratch at the surface, it can, and does go much deeper than that. Hunter researches the reasoning behind the development of the 6.5 Carcano round, and the rifle itself. What it was meant to do, what role it was meant to fill, and that it was an obsolete round by the end of the 19th century, barely 10 years after it was first developed. That Oswald crudely attached a scope (cheap pot metal and two screws where there should have been 4). Was the scope even zeroed, is it even zeroed now? Did anyone even think to check? Just like no one checked Bob Lee's Model 700 in "Point of Impact", or in "I Sniper" when Nick Memphis is framed for bribery for selling out to Fabrique National for their sniper rifle while holding a Winchester Model 70 in a picture, the devil is in the details.

See? Guns matter in a world where people believe they don't. A good portion of our population believes that guns don't matter, that they don't need them, and no one else does either, that we'd all be safer without them. And you know what? Not everyone should, but don't count them out. Hunter sure doesn't and I love him for it.

PS He's not above poking fun at himself, "wrote one about a guy who uses cars instead of guns to get away from the gun angle, but no one liked it," (Night of Thunder). But then he still has a character who uses cares to kill. A little bit of that we don't ban cars, so why ban guns argument? I think so. Which lends this argument even more validity.
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on July 15, 2013
As with many of Stephen Hunter's novels, the firearms and their surrounding technologies are the stars of this story.

I came into this book very unfamiliar with the entire JFK conspiracy scene, but found the story easy to follow and very enjoyable.

I rarely highlight fiction books, but found numerous quotable sections throughout like:

"A gun makes a man comfortable... Not using them, having them. The weight, the reminding pull on the waistline, the density, the pressure of the hard metal against the flesh. If you knew someone was going to try to kill you, that pressure was what let you operate. You were armed. You could fight. It was the enabler of all those who, for whatever reason, knew they would travel in violence's way."

and

"He stripped it, examined it, dry-fired it, drew it, grew proficient and familiar with it, learned it in all the ways a man can learn a gun without firing it, which happen to be considerable."

It's obvious that Hunter "gets" firearms and writes for those that are like him and enjoy the intricate details of shooting, shooting sports, reloading, etc.
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on March 15, 2013
Like most Americans, I don't believe the official story about the JFK assassination, but I don't have a theory of my own. In "The Third Bullet," Hunter fills that gap with more real substance than, I believe, any fiction writer who has ever covered this territory. Remember, this is fiction, so it doesn't have to answer every discrepancy in the evidence or cater to every reader's pet theory; it just has to make a good case for itself. That it does, and so well that you'll be surprised and amazed that such intelligent and novel observations can be made about a case that's 50 years cold.

Add to that the relentless, calculating, resourceful, ice-in-his-veins character of Bob Lee Swagger, and you have the recipe for the best page-turner I've read in years. I couldn't agree less with the Swagger fans who were disappointed by his advancing age in this story. For me, that was one of the best things about it. Like the 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins, who just won the world light-heavyweight boxing title against a man 17 years his junior, the 60-something Swagger in this story picks the angles, artfully dodges, flushes his enemy out and strikes at the moment of maximum advantage.

In short, this book has it all: one of the most compelling and well-reasoned assassination theories you'll ever see, with the perpetrators actually coming after our hero as he tries to solve the case. If they make this story into a movie, I'll be camped out on line.
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The novel has been successful as a literary form for many reasons. One of the most important is its capacity for leveraging the strengths of a number of other literary forms. They are all grist for the novel's mill. Stephen Hunter is well aware of this fact. In The Third Bullet there are elements of the true crime narrative, the technothriller (with the elaborate ballistics information), the personal journal, the biography, conventional historiography and the documentary. The endpapers include an outline of the buildings, the streets and the built landscape of Dealey Plaza. When you pick it up the jacket tells you that it is a Bob Lee Swagger novel, but its jacket design and endpapers tell you that it is the newest installment of the technical investigations of the Kennedy assassination.

Bob Lee is approached by the widow of a (probably murdered) writer, who was investigating the Kennedy assassination. Bob Lee agrees to help (in effect) a lady in distress; hence we have elements of the chivalric romance. And Bob Lee is the true knight, with the weapons, courage and determination of such a figure. His forte is firearms, of course, and he begins the case with significant questions: why did Oswald return to his boarding house to secure his handgun, when he could have taken it with him on the morning of the assassination? And why did the third bullet shatter as it slammed into the president's head? The Italian weapon Oswald was shooting was not designed to fire bullets that would explode; it was designed to penetrate multiple layers of clothing in the distant mountains (through which invaders of Italy would necessarily come).

SPOILERS ALERT. Bob Lee's investigations take him into the mind and plans of an individual utilizing a second shooter, the latter of whom has faced Bob Lee in the past. Hence, this book is part of the continuing Bob Lee Swagger saga and lovers of the series will be struck by the overlap between Bob Lee's backstory and the assassination plot.

I do not want to give away too much, but suffice it to say that the mastermind works for a branch of the U.S. government. From a novelistic point of view the narrative is quite interesting in that Stephen Hunter reveals this individual's identity (as Bob Lee hunts him) about 40-45% of the way through the book. That individual then records, for the reader, his personal journal, describing the plot in detail. As he tells us about himself we cut back and forth between his narration and the omniscient narration revealing Bob Lee's actions. As Bob Lee hunts him, he hunts Bob Lee. We find ourselves enmeshed in an elaborate spy-vs-spy chess match/hunt.

The narrative is particularly engaging, given the fact that so much of it consists of technical information. There is much more `telling' and much less `showing' than is characteristic of such fiction, but it does not prove to be a problem or hindrance.

The settings include Dallas (of course), Moscow, Connecticut and Baltimore. Each is nicely realized. Stephen Hunter has done his homework and the result is an exceptional novel.

One quibble: in order to explain conspiracies and eliminate possibilities, there must be very few loose ends. Jack Ruby is a major loose end in the novel, as the mafia is absolved of responsibility for the slaying. Ruby's mafia ties have long been known. (See Max Allan Collins' recent, excellent Kennedy assassination novel, Target Lancer.) Bobby Kennedy's son has recently revealed that his father conducted some investigations of his own and found a web of communications between Ruby and the mob. This remains a terrific novel, but students of the Kennedy assassination are likely to believe that Bob Lee's net was not cast as far as it might have been.
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on March 20, 2013
I was anxiously awaiting to be able to read the newest Stephen Hunter book; I've read all of his fine works. Having said that, I read this first chapter and thought, "What the heck is this?" It took me a while to get into his story line and find out where he was going with this. It actually (IMHO) turns into a book within a book about the Kennedy assassination, second shooters and the third bullet. He puts together a truly believable theory based on points that don't dispute the facts brought out by the Warren Commission. While I can appreciate the book within a book to tell the story, I miss the heart pounding, feel like you are there action of his other books. The book is very well written, as all of his works. One must read the acknowledgments at the end of the book to really understand what he was doing. Give me "Dirty White Boys," or "Black Light" any day, though.
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VINE VOICEon March 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
It’s certainly no secret that I’m a fervent admirer of Stephen Hunter’s novels featuring Bob Lee Swagger—I’ve enjoyed Hunter’s prose (both fiction and non- fiction) for nearly two decades now, and think he’s always at the top of his form when he’s writing about Bob the Nailer. So you can imagine how eagerly I anticipated this book, which finds the gunnie deeply enmeshed in the details of the 1963 assassination of JFK.

I’m happy to report that the novel should prove wildly entertaining to both Hunter devotees such as myself, and to those who might be coming to this particular table for the first time—even though it has deep ties to the rest of the series, it remains accessible to all. Within, Hunter successfully marries a terrific adventure story, supplemented by some very funny self- deprecating humor, with a new look at the details of the tragedy in Dallas, making it all seem fresh. If this is, as some have suggested, the last Bob Lee Swagger adventure, it’s a fitting conclusion to the series, bringing to mind all that made these books the treasures that they are.
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And our Super Hero Senior Citizen, Mr. Bob Lee Swagger, at age 66 has obviously reached that age. He has been a non-drinker for some time now and afternoon naps have been added to his repertoire. At age 62, my naps certainly don't give me the physical strength, quick reflexes and mental dexterity that Bob Lee posesses.

This book is much better than other reviewers would have you believe. If you are a gun owner and shooter like me, and if you remember where you were on November 22, 1963, you will really enjoy the research and speculation on this alternative explanation of who shot President John Kennedy. If the actual events weren't as presented by the Warren Commission, it would take a truly "out of the box" scenario to accomplish this clandestine mission. Stephen Hunter's narrative presents a compelling case of what might have been and the true horror of this novel is who could have been behind it.

This is more of a thinking man's Bob Lee rather than the man who constantly places himself in harm's way and manages to bull his way out of trouble. Getting older and more mature usually results in thought conquering action.
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