Showing posts with label Basil's War. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Basil's War. Show all posts

23 June 2021

Hunter's War


 

Stephen Hunter’s new novel, Basil’s War, dropped in early May, published by Mysterious Press.  Later in the month, Book Passage put together a video interview, with Steve and Doug Preston.  You can check it out here: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmz0D1o8e_E

 

Basil’s War is a lot of fun, kind of a John Buchan send-up, with a lot of derring-do and Brit insouciance.  The net gain for me, though, was to lead me back to some of Hunter’s earlier stuff.  My first experience of Hunter was Hot Springs, which is a doozy, but as often happens when you run into somebody new to you, who’s got back-list, you start at the beginning.  I picked up The Master Sniper, his d├ębut thriller, and the spell was cast.

 


Hunter hit his stride in the 1990’s, Point of Impact, Dirty White Boys, Black Light, and Time to Hunt.  Not that he’s fallen off since, but going back and picking these books up again, after an absence, you find your earlier enthusiasm  reinforced, even while you notice different things, and for different reasons. 

 

We know our strengths, as writers, and we naturally play to them.  One of Hunter’s surpassing gifts is a feel for the physical, an ability to read the room, or the landscape, and adjust to threat posture.  John McPhee wrote a terrific book about Bill Bradley, the college ball player, called A Sense of Where You Are, a reference to kinesthetics.  An athlete will know his position on the court, the geometry of the game.  Hunter is fluent in setting up a physical description.  You don’t need a schematic.  You inhabit that space. 

 


The gunfight in the darkened tattoo parlor, in Dirty White Boys.  One of the most astonishing set-pieces in anything I’ve ever read.  It’s told with multiple POV, and the guys in the dark, with the gun flashes blowing up their night vision, can’t triangulate each other’s position.  But the reader is never disoriented.  You can feel the physicality, the geometry, the ground shifting under your feet.

 

OK, the guns.  It’s true that you can’t talk about Hunter without talking about guns.  Black Light is very much about guns; so is Time to Hunt.  Bullet weight, point of aim, subsonics, and the rest.  It’s all pertinent, mind.  The gun that kills Earl, in the cornfield – or the gun they think killed Earl – is a .38 Super.  A real gunfighter’s weapon, Bob Lee points out: Dillinger carried one.  But not that common, not in 1955, not in Arkansas.  You’d likely find a lot of GI guns, surplus .45’s left over from the war, but that hot caliber?  It sticks in Bob Lee’s mind, an anomaly.  And he’s right, of course. 

 


Somebody once asked Hunter, couldn’t you get rid of all that gun crap?  Which reminds me of a story about Tony Hillerman.  He was shopping the first of the Leaphorn books, The Blessing Way, and one agent he sent it to said she thought it was good, but there was an awful lot of that Indian crap. 

 

Hunter says he was reading about The Wild Bunch, and it turned out you couldn’t get blanks to cycle reliably in a .45 auto, but blanks would work in a .38 Super, which were readily available in Mexico.  Armed with this piece of movie lore, the first thing Hunter does is go on GunBroker and see if he can’t find one.  I did the same thing, me.  I have to say, your .38 Super’s a damn good gun.  Anyway, that’s how come it turns up in Black Light, and later on in Havana.  Writers are magpies, stealing bright things. 

 


So.  I took a trip down memory lane.  I also, however, unreservedly recommend Basil’s War.  It’s mischievous, for one, not something I generally associate with Hunter’s books.  And it’s a puzzle.  (Alan Turing, brought in from Bletchley Park, has an extended cameo.)  I’d almost call it a lark.  Hunter clearly had fun with it.  I did, too.