Review

The 47th Samurai: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel

by Stephen Hunter

The
first Stephen Hunter novel I read was DIRTY WHITE BOYS, a tale
written with such stark realism that to this day, as the result of
a long descriptive passage in that book, I cannot eat in a
restaurant unless I am facing the door. All of Hunter's work ---
from HAVANA to HOT SPRINGS to POINT OF IMPACT to BLACK LIGHT --- is
infused with an immediacy that is the stuff of waking nightmare,
where death is a constant visitor whose knock on the door is but a
moment away. This is especially true of THE 47th SAMURAI, Hunter's
latest novel and arguably his best.


Hunter has been busily constructing the mythos of the Swaggers, a
father and son who neither seek nor practice violence for its own
sake but invoke its use in the name of nobility. The events of THE
47th SAMURAI have their origin in great part as the result of an
encounter on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima on February 21, 1945.
On that day Hideki Yano, a captain in the Japanese Imperial Army,
met U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Earl Swagger in pitched battle at
close quarters. Only Earl Swagger survived at the conclusion. Some
60 years later, their sons, Philip Yano and Bob Lee Swagger, meet
in an Idaho field. Yano has journeyed to the United States to honor
his father's heroism by recovering his sword, which was lost on
that long-ago field of battle. Swagger, restlessly dealing day by
day in uneasy retirement, makes Yano's quest his own. Though
Swagger does not have the sword in his possession, he goes to
extraordinary lengths to recover it and then to personally deliver
it to Yano in Japan.


Let us digress here for a moment. Hunter's description of Swagger's
efforts, told with an economy of words and a matter-of-fact
narration, imbibe his character with a nobility and morality rarely
encountered in fiction of any genre these days. Swagger does not
consider his actions out of the ordinary or even exemplary; he is
simply doing what a soldier does to honor the memory of another.
What neither Swagger nor Yano understands, however, is that the
sword in question is not possessed of an ordinary blade but is
rather a legendary artifact whose existence goes to the heart of
Japanese history and culture.


Swagger, honoring the legacies of Yano's father and his own, finds
himself suddenly at the epicenter of a series of horrific crimes
instigated by the yakuza underworld, for whom no crime is
too dark or unthinkable if it will result in possession of the
blade. A plain-spoken man with the soul of a warrior, Swagger finds
himself tossed into the heart of an alien culture and language of
which he knows little but with which he shares a great deal in
spirit. As he gives himself over to the warrior spirit of the
Samurai, Swagger heads into a cataclysmic encounter from which he
cannot emerge unscathed but must not avoid if his honor is to
survive intact.


Hunter's preparation for the writing of THE 47th SAMURAI involved
far more than research into Japanese culture. The realism, the
history and the understanding that informs the tale from first page
to last required nothing short of immersion. The author's greatest
research, however, is on display in the discussion of the sword,
the penultimate Samurai weapon that has affected the history and
culture of Japan to an extent and degree that the Western mind is
barely capable of understanding. His breadth of knowledge is so
mesmerizing that one almost loses sight of the fact that the story
possesses a symmetry that combines the best qualities of Eastern
and Western culture as well. Put this one on your "must-read"
list.


   









Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010

The 47th Samurai: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel
by Stephen Hunter

  • Publication Date: November 25, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • ISBN-10: 0743458001
  • ISBN-13: 9780743458009