SOFT TARGET arrives just in time for your holiday shopping. Opening with a shopping mall Santa Claus taking a head shot from a high velocity rifle, the book starts off strong and never lets up.
"Opening with a shopping mall Santa Claus taking a head shot from a high velocity rifle, the book starts off strong and never lets up."
Stephen Hunter has kept me out of Denny’s ever since I read DIRTY WHITE BOYS, and now SOFT TARGET will keep me out of shopping malls for this Christmas season and probably thereafter as well. There is a strong reason for this. The novel takes place over the course of a terrifying four hours during which a group of Somali Islamic terrorists take over a large mall in the middle of Minnesota --- not that mall, but yes, it’s just like it --- and hold over a thousand shoppers hostage in a strategic location, threatening to kill them, one by one, unless their demands are met. As it happens, a mall close to me in Columbus, Ohio --- one that I drive by almost daily --- was the target of a similar threat by Islamic Somali terrorists. Hunter’s books are all extremely realistic, and I will tell you that I doubt I will ever be able to drive past my local shopping and entertainment complex without thinking of SOFT TARGET.
But the folks here have one advantage. The saving grace for the hostages is that Ray Cruz, first introduced in DEAD ZERO, is locked up in that mall right along with them. Cruz is the offspring of Hunter’s iconic Bob Lee Swagger. All parties concerned leave the heredity vs. environment argument to the geneticists and sociologists, thank you very much, as Cruz quietly and deliberately takes matters into his own hands, moving through the floors of the shopping mall like an angel of death. It isn’t long at all before he evens up the odds against him and those innocents who had the misfortune to be mallside on the busiest shopping day of the year. However, Cruz and a couple of unexpected allies are up against some formidable opponents. In addition to the terrorists, there is a shadowy figure pulling their strings and setting things up, working from an area away from the action but inside the mall.
But perhaps the most dangerous element aligned against Cruz and the shoppers is someone who is ostensibly on their side. His name is Douglas Obobo, a man who has used his charm and charisma to rise to the top of the Minnesota State Police and whose cluelessness with respect to his response to a life-threatening hostage situation will more likely than not get everyone killed except the perpetrators. As a lone FBI sniper named Dave McElroy waits outside the mall’s upper exterior dome for an order to rescue the hostages that may never come, he attempts to aid Cruz in his go-it-alone endeavor, a task that may well cost both men their careers, as unbelievable as it may seem.
SOFT TARGET may not be Hunter’s best book, but it’s a darn good one --- what we would have called a “ripping yarn” in days gone by --- and a tale that will keep you reading all night and leave you with your hands cramped and your rear muscles tight. And if that Obobo character reminds you of anyone in the real world, bless you.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 8, 2011