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You don't often find novels or films based on the art of the sniper. Hiding out for hours motionless and then killing someone unseen from hundreds of yards away doesn't make for as interesting a story as a face to face shoot out. But with ''I, Sniper'', Stephen Hunter has managed to combine the art of the sniper with the art of the crime thriller in a decent read.
Carl Hitchcock was a famous sniper during the Vietnam War, racking up more kills than anyone else. So it seemed, until news emerged of another sniper with three more verified victims than himself. This news seems to have had a profound psychological effect on Hitchcock, especially with the recent death of his wife. Hitchcock sets about killing four prominent anti-war figures from that era to reclaim his record. Evidence at Hitchcock's home and his suicide afterwards seems to point all the evidence directly at him, but F. B. I. agent Nick Memphis is not so sure.
Unfortunately for Memphis, one of the victims was a former wife of a very rich and well connected man, who is keen to have the murder solved and the case closed as soon as possible to keep his ex-wife's name out of the papers. Determined to find the truth, even with his name being dragged through the dirt, Memphis calls in another former sniper, Bob Lee Swagger, to find out who is really behind the killings and why.
Stephen Hunter has managed to get a little bit of everything into this novel, which made it a highly enjoyable read. There is a little bit of the murky world of Washington politics, a touch of the messy world of tabloid journalism and some minor insight into the world of forensics so popularised by TV shows like ''C. S. I.''. Hunter manages not to get tangled up in the intricate web of plot he is weaving and remembers to keep the story always moving forwards and the crime which is the focus of the plot always remains to the fore, regardless of what else is going on.
It's a riveting story, with plenty of twists to keep the reader interested. Perhaps wisely, Hunter prefers not to concentrate too deeply on the art of the sniper except where the plot demands he does so, which allows for a much greater layering of story than might have been expected. Frequent switching between parts of the story help keep the pace feeling high, not that this is a slow paced story by any means. This turns out to be quite fortunate as other aspects of the novel aren't quite as good.
The characters never seem terribly well drawn and this makes it difficult to get too involved in the story. Admittedly, a sniper is likely to be colder and less emotional than some due to their job, but even the other characters seem a little basic. There is very little here that seems inviting and whilst I realise that murder and politics aren't the most welcoming of things, it did feel as if the story was holding me at arm's length. At no point do you ever really get a great deal of insight into the characters and whilst there are references to partners and home lives, a glimpse of them is all you get, which makes some of the characters seem a little like automatons. There is often little to distinguish the cold logical sniper from any of the other characters, at least emotionally.
Almost as an adjunct to this, Hunter did sometimes get a little in depth when it came to the shooting. It may be the focus of the title, but too often we were treated to the sniper lining up a sight, calculating the windage and the range and programming it into his scope to increase the accuracy of his shot. Whilst it was interesting to get a look into a sniper's scope, as this is a viewpoint rarely represented elsewhere, the level of detail did become a little repetitive after a few shots were taken.
This apart, though, I did enjoy ''I, Sniper'' as it neatly wove together several different plot strands and aspects of life in Washington into a very readable story. It may not be the most welcoming of crime thrillers, but it certainly offers something a little different and it is one of the more entertaining ones. With it being a recent release, prices are still quite high at the moment with a cheapest price of £4.19 from Amazon, but it's well worth a look if you can find a copy in the library.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk