Hunter, Stephen 1946-

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HUNTER, Stephen 1946-

PERSONAL: Born March 25, 1946, in Kansas City, MO; son of Charles Francis (a professor) and Virginia (an executive; maiden name, Ricker) Hunter; married Lucy Hageman (a teacher), September 13, 1969; children: James H., Amy E. Education: Northwestern University, B.S.J., 1968.

ADDRESSES: Home—10013 Cape Anne Dr., Columbia, MD 21046. Office—Baltimore Sun, 501 North Calvert, Baltimore, MD 21203.

CAREER: Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, MD, copy reader, 1971-73, book review editor, 1973-82, film critic, 1982—. Military service: U.S. Army, Infantry, 1968-70.



The Master Sniper, Morrow (New York, NY), 1980.

The Second Saladin, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982.

The Spanish Gambit, Crown (New York, NY), 1985, published as Tapestry of Spies, Dell (New York, NY), 1997.

Target, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1985.

The Day Before Midnight, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.

Point of Impact, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.

Dirty White Boys, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.

Black Light, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.

Time to Hunt, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.

Hot Springs, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.

Pale Horse Coming, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.

Havana, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.

film criticism

Violent Screen: A Critic's 13 Years on the Front Lines of Movie Mayhem, Bancroft Press (Baltimore, MD), 1995.


Contributor to periodicals, including Crawdaddy.

SIDELIGHTS: Stephen Hunter is a veteran journalist and film critic who has also won a large readership with his action-packed suspense novels. Though marked by fast-paced plotting and graphic violence, his fiction has also won praise from reviewers for its multi-faceted characters, particularly Bob Lee Swagger, a retired Marine sniper, and his father Earl Swagger, a World War II veteran.

One of the author's early novels, The Spanish Gambit (later reissued under the title Tapestry of Spies), is based on the true story of Kim Philby, one of the most infamous double agents of the twentieth century. Philby was a Cambridge-educated British intelligence operative who spied for the Soviet Union and defected to that country in the early 1960s. Hunter explored Philby's stint as a correspondent for the London Times during the Spanish Civil War, and speculates on the manner in which he was recruited as a Soviet agent. Armchair Detective contributor Jeanne F. Bedell described The Spanish Gambit as "more complex psychologically and richer in historical background than most espionage fiction."

In The Day Before Midnight, a military-political thriller, a shadowy cadre of military men seizes control of an American missile base and threatens to launch an attack on the Soviet Union. New York Times Book Review critic Newgate Callendar acknowledged the novel's strengths as entertainment, pointing out its "nonstop action and mounting tension," although he wondered if the book would age well, asking: "What will authors do if, in a few years, the Russians are our friends?" Hunter proved his ability to adjust to that change in the world scene when it came, however. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he turned increasingly toward writing books that examined characters and situations within the United States. He has achieved his greatest popular success, as well as his most enthusiastic critical reception, with his books about Bob Lee Swagger, including Point of Impact and Hot Springs, and about Swagger's father Earl, featured in Hot Springs and Pale Horse Coming.

Bob Swagger killed eighty-seven people in Vietnam, his accuracy as a sniper earning him the nickname "The Nailer." Twenty years after the war, Bob lives in the Arkansas mountains, where he hunts and takes care of his gun collection. This quiet way of life is interrupted when he is contacted by RamDyne, a mysterious company linked to military intelligence. He is hired as a consultant to help protect the president from assassination, but Swagger soon realizes that his job is merely a set-up. Before long he is the most wanted man in America, pursued by the police, the FBI, and hired killers from RamDyne who need to silence him. Fleeing through the underworld, Swagger finds an ally in another expert marksman in the twilight of his career at the FBI. The two embark on a bloody quest for justice and retribution, and the story concludes with a dramatic court case. In a New York Times Book Review notice, Callendar wrote, "More than a mere action novel, Point of Impact is superbly written. Mr. Hunter has made a fine effort to get into the mind of his protagonist." Writing in Armchair Detective, Christine E. Thompson called Point of Impact an "excellent novel" that delivered "top-notch emotional experience."

Dirty White Boys presents an elaborate cat-and-mouse game between a homicidal prison escapee and the Oklahoma highway patrolman who pursues him. In the novel's opening scenes, convicted killer Lamar Pye escapes from Oklahoma's maximum security McAlester State Penitentiary accompanied by his cousin Odell, a mentally retarded giant with a cleft palate, and Richard Peed, a scholarly, rather effeminate man whose sketches have captivated Lamar. Led by Lamar, this awkward trio cuts a swath of murder and mayhem across Oklahoma and Texas, eventually taking refuge in the farmhouse of a psychotic young woman who becomes their partner in crime, their helpmate, and Lamar's lover. Their chief antagonist is Oklahoma Highway Patrol Sergeant Bud Pewtie, a veteran cop and family man whose normal stolidity is disrupted by two obsessions: his adulterous affair with his partner's wife, and capturing Lamar Pye. New York Times Book Review contributor Marilyn Staso hailed Dirty White Boys as "an exhilarating crime novel" with a "big, mythic theme," and observed, "of all the killings in Dirty White Boys …, the death of the American family is the most monstrous." According to Daniel Woodrell in the Washington Post Book World, "Hunter is extremely knowledgeable about small arms, criminal behavior, and law enforcement techniques. He writes very well, in direct and savory prose, poetically evocative and rough-and-tumble by turns."

With the publication of Black Light, Hunter revealed that the tenuously connected novels Point of Impact and Dirty White Boys were actually the first two parts of a genuine trilogy that explored the relationship between sons and fathers. The lawman father of Bob Lee Swagger, the hero of Point of Impact, killed the criminal father of Lamar Pye, the arch-fiend of the Dirty White Boys. In Black Light, Bob Lee Swagger returns, this time teaming up with Russell Pewtie, the son of Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Bud Pewtie. In Dirty White Boys, Russell Pewtie is a studious, Princeton-bound teenager; in Black Light, he is a young newspaperman helping Bob Lee Swagger investigate the four-decade-old murder of the latter's father, a crime found to have connections to, among other things, the CIA and corrupt Arkansas politicians. According to Los Angeles Times critic Dick Lochte, "The result is a big, bristly bear of a book, edgy and violent." According to a critic for Publishers Weekly, Black Light confirms Hunter's "status as one of the most skilled hands in the thriller business."

Bob appears again in Time to Hunt, which finds him married to the widow of one of his closest comrades in Vietnam, Danny Fenn. The two of them are horseback riding with another companion in Arizona when a sniper's shot kills their friend. Somehow, the murder is linked to events in the early 1970s, when Danny was ordered to spy on peace-movement activists. Now Bob and his wife both seem to be targets, and their deaths to be the intended conclusion of events set into motion years before. Time to Hunt is "both a gripping war novel and a complex thriller," noted Charles Michaud in Library Journal. Booklist reviewer Wes Lukowsky mused, "Swagger is a nearmythic character without peer in mystery fiction."

Hunter created a prequel to his Bob Swagger books, so that he could write about Bob Swagger's father, Earl. The novel entitled Hot Springs is set in an Arkansas town that teems with corruption and is known as a playground for criminal types and their hangers-on. Earl is weary from the terrible things he has seen and done in World War II, but is set to work cleaning up Hot Springs, a job as dangerous as fighting in the Pacific. Comparing Hot Springs to the work of Dashiell Hammett, Booklist writer Bill Ott described it as "a violent book about the allure of violence." Jan Tarasovic, a writer for School Library Journal stated that "readers who find violence exciting will get their fill, but they will also see that the scars it leaves may never heal, and that winning the war may be just the start of the battle." A Publishers Weekly writer also praised Hunter's character development and his prose, which includes "some wonderful stretches of backwoods dialect and gritty scenes of physical and emotional turmoil" and "has that rare visual quality that takes the action off the page and into the mind."

In Pale Horse Coming, Earl Swagger's story continues as he attempts to liberate a horrific Mississippi prison for black men, run by a gang of vicious, racist guards. In addition to the overt abuse they face, it seems the prisoners may be the subjects of secret medical experiments. Less nuanced than the previous book, it nevertheless makes for compelling reading, according to Booklist reviewer Bill Ott, who remarked: "The character of Earl Swagger, equal parts gristle and determination, remains compelling, both as archetype and as complex human being." Pale Horse Coming is a "virtually un-put-downable gothic chiller about unspeakable evil," commented a Publishers Weekly writer. With "unforgettable characters in vivid settings…. Once again, Hunter proves he is a master of cinematic prose."



American Libraries, February, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Hot Springs, p. 60.

Armchair Detective, summer, 1993, pp. 23-24; fall, 1993, p. 118.

Baltimore Evening Sun, May 27, 1980.

Booklist, May 1, 1996, Wes Lukowsky, review of Black Light, p. 1468; April 15, 1998, Wes Lukowsky, review of Time to Hunt, p. 1384; May 1, 2000, Bill Ott, review of Hot Springs, p. 1623; May 1, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Hot Springs, p. 1598; October 15, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Pale Horse Coming, p. 385; February 15, 2002, Nancy Spillman, review of Hot Springs, p. 1039; August, 2003, Bill Ott, review of Havana, p. 1925.

Chicago Tribune Books, February 21, 1993, p. 7; November 20, 1994, p. 6.

Denver Post (Denver, CO), October 14, 2001, review of Pale Horse Coming, p. K5; July 2, 2000, review of Hot Springs, p. F1.

Entertainment Weekly, December 23, 1994, p. 61; October 10, 2003, Adam B. Vary, review of Havana, p. 128.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1994, pp. 1152-1153; July 15, 2003, review of Havana, p. 928.

Library Journal, October 15, 1994, David Keymer, review of Dirty White Boys, p. 87; November 15, 1995, Carol J. Binkowski, review of Violent Screen: A Critic's 13 Years on the Front Lines of Movie Mayhem, pp. 76-77; April 1, 1996, Adam Mazmanian, review of Black Light, p. 117; September 15, 1996, Kristen L. Smith, review of Black Light, p. 112; May 1, 1998, Charles Michaud, review of Time to Hunt, p. 138; May 15, 2000, Thomas L. Kilpatrick, review of Hot Springs, p. 124; December, 2000, Beth Farrell, review of Hot Springs, p. 212; May 15, 2003, Ray Vignovich, review of Pale Horse Coming (audio version), p. 145; October 1, 2003, Thomas Kilpatrick, review of Havana, p. 116.

Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1985; June 23, 1996, p. 10.

News & Record (Piedmont Triad, NC), November 25, 2001, review of Hot Springs, p. R3.

New York Times Book Review, April 23, 1989, p. 33; February 28, 1993, p. 24; November 20, 1994, p. 44; June 9, 1996, p. 29; August 27, 2000, John D. Thomas, review of Hot Springs, p. 18.

Observer (London, England), April 28, 2002, Peter Guttridge, review of Pale Horse Coming, p. 19.

People, January 23, 1995, p. 28; June 17, 1996, p. 32.

Publishers Weekly, September 19, 1994, p. 49; April 29, 1996, p. 51; May 27, 1996, p. 75; March 30, 1998, review of Time to Hunt, p. 67; June 5, 2000, review of Hot Springs, p. 72; September 24, 2001, review of Pale Horse Coming, p. 67; July 21, 2003, review of Havana, p. 171.

Rocky Mountain News, July 16, 2000, Peter Mergendahl, review of Hot Springs, p. 2E.

San Francisco Examiner, July 11, 2000, review of Hot Springs, p. B3.

School Library Journal, March, 2001, Jan Tarasovic, review of Hot Springs, p. 281.

Seattle Times, August 26, 2000, Bill Norton, review of Hot Springs, p. D8.

Washington Post Book World, January 8, 1995, p. 4.*

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Hunter, Stephen 1946-

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