Stephen Hunter is single-handedly responsible for the facts that
1) I won’t sit in any room with my back to the door and 2) I
will not eat at Denny’s (although Hunter’s characters,
as demonstrated in NIGHT OF THUNDER, still do). The reason for
this is set forth in a scene in his classic novel DIRTY WHITE BOYS.
Hunter continues to write memorable books that transfix and haunt,
as demonstrated by his latest work. You won’t hear or see the
acronym NASCAR without thinking of it.
Bob Lee Swagger, the Marine sniper known as Bob the Nailer,
returns in NIGHT OF THUNDER, his hair turned gray practically
overnight as the result of the events that took place in THE 47th
SAMURAI. The hair and a noticeable limp make Swagger appear to be
old and infirm; as readers of Hunter’s previous Nailer books
know, he is anything but. Swagger is more accurately described as
hard-seasoned and able to bring out the best in those around him,
to the regret and detriment of those who stand against him.
Notwithstanding his combat abilities, he would like nothing more
than to enjoy his hard-won peace with his wife and Miko, their
adopted daughter, but that is not to be.
Swagger’s older daughter Nikki, an investigative reporter
for a newspaper in Bristol, Tennessee, is the victim of an
assassination attempt that leaves her comatose. The local police
department seems to be convinced that the incident is connected to
the huge NASCAR event about to take place nearby and that
Nikki’s injuries are the result of some wild, drunken
horseplay gone wrong. Swagger, however, has other ideas and with a
bit of detective work establishes that there was a deliberate
attempt to murder his daughter, perhaps due to her investigation of
the crystal meth labs in the area.
Having established the “what,” Swagger begins
turning over rocks and Tennessee mud to determine the
“who.” His painstaking and deliberate investigation
leads him to the Reverend Alton Grumley, the patriarch of a
multi-state outlaw clan who has major plans, with an unlikely ally,
to pull off a spectacular and lucrative event that will have
repercussions far beyond the hills of the Tennessee-Virginia
border. The chief instrument of Grumley’s plan is an
enigmatic hit man known as the Sinnerman. It is the Sinnerman who
is responsible for Nikki’s injuries, and woe be to him, the
Grumleys, or anyone who attempts to get between Bob Lee Swagger and
his loved ones.
Swagger is not a genius, but is possessed of a canny
intelligence that enables him to distinguish what he knows from
what he does not and to seek out the answers in the right places.
His most deadly talent, however, is his steely prowess when it
comes to weaponry. He appears to be nothing more or less than a
stubborn old guy whose best days are behind him; perhaps they are,
but Swagger on a fair day is better than most people on their best
day. As NIGHT OF THUNDER heads toward two tumultuous climaxes ---
one large, the other small but no less important --- Swagger
demonstrates once again that no one attacks him or his family with
Hunter, recently retired as the film critic for a major
newspaper, once again has masterfully crafted a tale filled with
quiet honor, courage and toughness. While the book is full of
memorable action sequences, it is his characterizations,
true-to-life dialogue and knowledge (particularly of weapons
ordnance) that separate NIGHT OF THUNDER from some of its literary
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 13, 2011