Pulitzer Prize Winner on His Latest Bob Lee Swagger Adventure
In an interview with LifeZette, novelist Stephen Hunter reveals what drives his 'G-Man'
“I like writing any scene where there isn’t A) a cellphone, or B) a laptop because I hate cellphones and laptops,” Stephen Hunter told LifeZette in an interview about his latest novel, “G-Man.”
The book marks the 10th literary adventure of Bob Lee Swagger, a Vietnam veteran Marine sniper who can never stand still for too long.
The character was adapted to film with 2007’s “Shooter,” starring Mark Wahlberg — and now lives in the world of television with USA Network’s series by the same name, which has a second season debuting this summer.
The Swagger scribbled on the pages is a lot different from his sleeker and younger television counterpart. “G-Man” finds the hero a long way from when he was on the run from the government in 1993’s “Point of Impact,” Swagger’s introductory adventure. The sniper is now an older, successful man with a family, a good bit of wealth, and enough out of life that would make most men want to simply lounge around in their twilight years.
However — Swagger is not like most men. He’s restless, and he finds a new mystery and conspiracy to unravel in the story of his grandfather, Charles, a man he never met and only heard bits about from his father, Earl Swagger (a character about whom Hunter wrote a trilogy of books).
“G-Man” goes back and forth between Bob Lee’s unraveling of the story of his grandfather — to Charles’ actual tale of being recruited into the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1934 to hunt down real-life gangsters such as Baby Face Nelson.
It’s Charles’ section of the book that allowed Hunter to ditch technology and to embrace a different time full of Thompson submachine guns, an infant FBI, and a protagonist who would more than look at you sideways if you spit out a phrase like “political correctness” in front of him.
Charles Swagger is a man of a different time, but he is as much of a compelling and dedicated gunfighter as his grandson. He’s a man of duty whose hands seem to naturally fit around any gun he comes across — and if you’re reading a Stephen Hunter book, you can bet your life there are going to be plenty of guns.
“I had always wanted to do a Charles Swagger book,” said Hunter, who is based in Baltimore, Maryland — though he admitted “there were aspects of him I wasn’t too eager to play up.” The character has only been mentioned in Swagger books thus far, and the image painted of him has not been flattering. Certain aspects were based on Hunter’s own father.
Despite those hesitations, and despite Charles Swagger not being a character as immediately likable as Hunter’s other protagonists, “G-Man” sticks to a theme the author is drawn to, one he described as the “restoration of the prince.”
Of his original restored “prince,” Bob Lee Swagger, Hunter explained, “He’s brave. He’s smart. He’s strong. He’s clever. He’s decent. He has very high moral values and is a natural hero, but he is always when we discover him — particularly in the early books, he’s been exiled. He’s been forced aside by people at headquarters, and now they’re using him cynically. A whole thrust of the series has been that he asserts himself and returns to society. We first find him as a formerly drunken exile living in the woods, and when we leave him he is a healthy family man and businessman and living on a very nice ranch in Idaho. And he is beloved in his community, well-known in his world and treated with the respect and the affection he has earned.”
“What it’s really about is restoring a fallen hero to the grace and position of respect and gratitude that he deserves.”
Hunter said that for books focusing on Swagger’s later years, he needed to turn his and Swagger’s attention to other fallen heroes and people misunderstood by both culture and perceived history.
“Once I had done that with Bob, it seemed to be that the way to continue was to have him replicate that process with other exiled heroes. And one of the things that the books have been about is how he finds and champions heroes [who were] misused, as he was, by headquarters ***holes. The whole point is to solve a crime, it’s to obliterate a conspiracy — it’s to pay out justice. But what it’s really about is restoring a fallen hero to the grace and position of respect and gratitude that he deserves.”
In “G-Man,” Bob Lee Swagger takes on what is perhaps his most personal case yet. Said Hunter, “He does that in this book, with his own grandfather.”
“G-Man” is available now.