Saturday, July 22, 2017

G-Man by Stephen Hunter

There are a lot of good reasons why G-Man is a great book, and one or two anomalies that simply prove that all fiction must be flawed in some way. Stephen Hunter has written many fine books, but my favorites are Hot Springs and Pale Horse Coming. These are adventure novels, or what was once called “men’s adventure stories” of the style that once populated such saucy magazines as True Adventures or Real Men. Hunter, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his non-fiction articles for The Washington Post, is no stranger to gangsters, gunmen, gun molls and snipers. His fictional saga of the Swagger family, Earl and Bob Lee, are mandatory reading. G-Man is advertised on the dust-jacket as a “Bob Lee Swagger Novel” but that’s not true. G-Man is about Bob Lee’s grandfather, Charles, and it’s about John Dillinger; but mostly it’s about Baby Face Nelson. The present day sequences with Bob Lee investigating his grandfather’s past are nominal, at best, and could easily have been cut. The book’s best scenes are those with the gangsters in 1934. Hunter has done his homework and probably visualizes the best description and character studies of Dillinger, Nelson and company, albeit in a highly fictionalized manner. I suspect that Hunter’s view of these men is accurate, and my opinion comes from having read numerous non-fiction accounts. Hunter also earns points by asserting that it was Baby Face Nelson’s final gunfight that was the highlight, not Dillinger’s rather ignoble killing at Chicago’s Biograph Theater. Baby Face Nelson was killed on November 27, 1934 in what is now referred to as “The Battle of Barrington, Illinois” which also resulted in the deaths of FBI Agents Ed Hollis and Sam Cowley. The battle occurred in Langendorf Park just off Route 14 (Northwest Highway) and today visitors can find a commemorative plaque in the park honoring the slain FBI Agents. The plaque is situated next to the parking lot landscaped with asphalt and concrete and shadowed by the Barrington Park District building. Interested readers can google the old newspaper clipping showing that spot with the FBI car and Nelson’s car at the park entrance when the area was still mostly farmland. Hunter’s description of that gun battle and others appears to be meticulously researched. He doesn’t quite master the Route 14 towns in their correct order from east to west, but the gunfights are vividly depicted. G-Man makes for some riveting summer reading. Having fired a Thompson machine-gun myself, I appreciate Stephen Hunter’s factual assessment of the firearms used by the many players. All of Hunter’s books are rich in gun lore. G-Man is a thrilling novel, not quite perfect, but solid and well crafted. 

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