The Third Bullet (Bob Lee Swagger Series #8)

The Third Bullet (Bob Lee Swagger Series #8)

3.2 77
by Stephen Hunter

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Bob Lee Swagger is back in a thriller fifty years in the making . . .

It’s not even a clue. It’s a whisper, a trace, a ghost echo, drifting down through the decades via chance connections so fragile that they would disintegrate in the puff of a breath. But it’s enough to get legendary former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger interested in the…  See more details below


Bob Lee Swagger is back in a thriller fifty years in the making . . .

It’s not even a clue. It’s a whisper, a trace, a ghost echo, drifting down through the decades via chance connections so fragile that they would disintegrate in the puff of a breath. But it’s enough to get legendary former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger interested in the events of November 22, 1963, and the third bullet that so decisively ended the life of John F. Kennedy and set the stage for one of the most enduring controversies of our time.

Swagger begins his slow night stalk through a much-traveled landscape. But he’s asking questions that few have asked before: Why did the third bullet explode? Why did Lee Harvey Oswald, about to become the most hunted man on earth, risk it all by returning to his rooming house to secure a pistol he easily could have brought with him? How could a conspiracy that went unpenetrated for fifty years have been thrown together in the two and a half days between the announcement of the president’s route and the assassination itself?

As Bob investigates, another voice enters the narrative: knowing, ironic, almost familiar, that of a gifted, Yale-educated veteran of the CIA Plans Division. Hugh Meachum has secrets and the means and the will to keep them buried. When weighed against his own legacy, Swagger’s life is an insignificant expense—but to blunt the threat, he’ll first have to ambush the sniper.

As each man hunts the other across today’s globe and through the thickets of history, The Third Bullet builds to an explosive climax that will finally prove what Bob Lee Swagger has always known: it’s never too late for justice.

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Editorial Reviews

What begins as a suspicious fatal hit-and-run case becomes something far more momentous in this eighth novel starring Bob Lee Swagger. Almost before he knows it, this savvy master sniper finds himself locked into an assignment involving the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Now in mass-market paperback and NOOK Book.

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Simon & Schuster
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Bob Lee Swagger Series , #8
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Third Bullet

  • Baltimore

    The sidewalk before him bucked and heaved, blown askew by high winds howling through the night.

    Oh, wait. No. Let’s edit that. There was no bucking and heaving. Ditto with the “blown askew” and the “high winds howling through the night.”

    It just seemed so to Aptapton, because the winds that toyed with the stability of the sidewalk blew—“howled”—only through his own mind. They were zephyrs of vodka, and they’d substantially loosened his grip on the solidity of the little chunk of earth that lay between the bar he’d just exited and the house where he lived, a few hundred yards ahead.

    Aptapton: alcoholic, writer, success, melancholiac, and gun guy, was in a zone that might be called greater than a buzz but less than a full staggering drunk. He was one sheet to the wind, you might say, happyhappyhappyhappy, as three vodka martinis will do to a fellow with only moderate capacity for drink, and what lay ahead, although slightly challenging, didn’t really seem insurmountable. After all, he had to walk only another few feet, cross the street, and then—

    Digression. Pause for autobiographical interlude. It’s allowed when under the influence. One thing suggests another, and in this case the suggestion is appropriate.

    The street was called Light, and that suggested a kind of hopeful conclusion to the evening. Light as in light of heart, light of spirit, light at end of tunnel, light as in amusing, fey, witty, light as symbol of hope and life. But also: Light as in Light for All, as a famous newspaper, located a mile or so up the very same Light Street, had proclaimed on a daily basis for 175 years or so, twenty-six of which he’d spent in its employ and where his wife to this day toiled.

    Yes, he was that James Aptapton, minor local journo celeb who’d gone on to minor fame as a writer for money of hardcover books about gunfights and the stoic heroes who won them, and now he found himself at sixty-five improbably successful (in a small way) and awkwardly pleased to be himself. He had it all: beautiful wife, a couple of mil, a nice house in a fabulous part of town, a minor reputation (enough to take some pleasure in), a grand future, a munificent multibook contract, a really cool project ahead, and a lot of guns.

    The reason for the three vodka martinis was liberation, not celebration. His wife was absent, ha ha ha, too bad for her. She was at some newsroom woman thing, birthday party, maybe—why did women take birthdays so seriously, by the way?—and so he’d wandered on his own to the nearby bistro, had a burger with a Bud and then V.1, which weakened his resolve to resist V.2, which shattered his resolve to resist V.3. Fortunately, there’d been no V.4, or he’d be asleep in the men’s room.


    Where was I before digression?

    What place is this?

    Where am I now?

    Ha ha ha ha.

    Oh yes: home is the hunter. He. Was. Walking. Home.

    The street slanted, then rolled. Ahead, it humped up, then dipped down to permit a view of the valley. It rocked. It rolled. It shook, it rattled, it coiled, it double-bubbled, boiled, and troubled.

    He laughed.

    Do you find yourself amusing? his wife always asked, and the truth was, yes, he did find himself amusing.

    The mood, like the geography, chemically amplified by red potato crushed by kulak descendants, was quite good. That James Aptapton had been recognized. It happened. Rare, but not without precedent for your minor-league non-qual-lit celeb.

    “Mr. Aptapton?”

    Halfway through V.3, he’d looked up to see an earnest young fellow, possibly the assistant manager.

    “I just wanted to say, I’ve read all your books. My dad turned me on to them. I really, really love them.”

    “Well,” said Aptapton, “say, thanks so much.”

    The young man sat and gushed Aptapton love for a bit, and Aptapton tried to give him a meaningful Aptapton experience. The transaction worked out well for both of them, in fact, and at the bottom of V.3, a pause in the praise gave Aptapton the time to gracefully excuse himself, bid Tom? maybe Jack? possibly Sam? good-bye and make his exit. So his mood was mellow and radiant. He’d cross Light Street here, and only the narrow alley called Churchill lay between himself and horizontality in bed, his destination.

    The Russian watched from the stolen black Camaro parked on Light. This looked to be the night. He’d been stalking for three days now, in his patient, professional way, and part of his talent lay in understanding exactly when the arrangements favored him and when they did not.

    Thus, a police scanner played out its truncated cop-speak ten-code and laconic locality identifiers, and it suggested no police presence here in the immediate Federal Hill area. Thus, it was late enough that the action in this night-town district had played itself out and the streets, though glistening with dew, were largely empty, and only periodic parties of drunken twentysomethings rolled this way and that. Thus, finally, the target had emerged, functionally reduced by alcohol intake and self-love, and bobbed his way along the street.

    The Russian saw a man in jeans and a tweed coat with a pair of writer-like glasses, Trotsky out of Orwell by way of Armani or some such. You saw glasses like that in New York. The man had a round, pleased face, bearded after Hemingway and to disguise jowls, narcissism blasting out of him more powerfully than any other human attribute. Expensive shoes. Nice shoes. A well-turned-out fellow.

    Barring the unforeseen arrival of some whimsical force that favors thriller writers above all others in the world, it was probably going to happen tonight. The Russian did not believe in whimsical forces: he believed only in the power of a fast car to break the spine of a poor unsuspecting fool like this one a hundred times out of a hundred times. He had seen it, he had done it, he had the nerve and the cool and the coldness of heart to do such damage without a lot of emotional involvement. He was a professional and well paid.

    The target for tonight, joints loosened by the alcohol, managed to get himself across Light Street without falling. He navigated with that overcontrol typical of the drunk. Great forward movement, momentum building, but without the capacity of adaptation; he arrived at where he tended, not at where he aimed, and at the last, lurching moment, he bumbled through a sideways correction, a sort of exaggerated funny-walk bit.

    All of this meant nothing to the Russian, who found nothing funny. He noted distances, angles, and surfaces as a way of computing acceleration rates into speed on impact. The Russian prosaically jacked two wires together in the torn-out key unit of the dashboard, and the beast of a car stirred to life. He was not showy or stylized, so there was no gunning of the engine to allow the horses under the hood to roar and the exhaust pipes to bellow steamy toxins. He eased into first, nudged his way into the empty street, and waited just a bit, because he needed at least three seconds of acceleration time in the alley to get to fifty miles per hour, which was the killing impact.

    On either side, there was nothing but Baltimore. At the mouth of Churchill, a church to one side and a typical Baltimore row house meant for the miniature people of the 1840s to the other, Aptapton re-aimed himself and pressed onward down the concourse. It was listed as a street in city records but had been constructed as an alley many years ago, its tiny brick dwellings serving as servants’ quarters or backyard administrative units for the larger houses that faced outward to prouder, wider streets. For a hundred years this back way had probably been the province of pig and horse shit commingled with blood and Negro or immigrant sweat, where the invisible servers lived to sustain the opulent ease of those in the big houses. Then it became the inevitable slum, but that condition never quite went terminal, as the dwellings were too cute for demolition. Now, of course, gentrification had come in the form of museum-quaint cobblestones, which gleamed moistly as if at an art director’s bidding, little mock-gaslight streetlamps, lots of gardening and painting and each tiny building essentially remanufactured from the inside out, so that they had become nesting sites for the young urban hip. Aptapton, that Aptapton, began to amuse himself by inventing sexual perversions he imagined were ongoing on either side of Churchill. Then he heard the sound of a car engine.

    Agh. This meant he’d have to re-adjust his somewhat sloppily functioning internal gyro and get himself off the cobblestones and onto the little shelf of sidewalk. He heard basso profundo, deep-chest utters, and turned.

    He made out the streamlined form of the Camaro one hundred feet away and felt himself seized in its illumination. A friendly type always, he raised a hand and smiled, and indicated that he yielded to superior power and would manfully attempt to arrive upon the threshold of the curb. At the same time the whole thing reminded him of something, and it froze him in place as his mind examined its files.

    Finally, it came to him: an image from one of his own books.

    Didn’t he do one where the bad guy, some kind of car genius, used Camaros and Chargers and Trans-Ams to take people out? He’d thought he ought to get away from guns for a bit, and so he’d moved on to the high-pro muscle car as weapon of choice. Nobody seemed to like it very much, however. He’d also tried swords in one, to much chagrin. He was a gun guy, so he did best when he stuck to his guns.

    Anyway, this was setting up sort of like a scene in Thunder’s Evening, as the one had been called, and he had to laugh (“Are you amused by yourself?”) at the thing at the end of the alley, hazy in the glare of its headlights but sleek and black and damp, the odd refraction of street- and houselights playing magically off its shiny skin, film noir to the very end.

    It’s from my id! he thought.

    In the next second it accelerated.

    It came at a speed he’d never imagined possible, as if it had gone into warp drive, blurring the stars, and well before this information could be processed, he was airborne.

    He was airborne.

    There was no pain, though the blow he’d been delivered must have been a mighty thud. Again, when he rejoined Earth in a heap of breakage and ruin, there was no pain. He lay askew on the cobblestones, thinking, Oh, she’s going to be so mad at me, because he knew he was in big trouble with his wife.

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  • What People are saying about this

    New York Times bestselling author of First Blood - David Morrell

    “One of the hardest things for a writer to do is establish an identity, but there is no mistaking Stephen Hunter’s thrillers. They have a unique insight into what it takes to be a hero, combined with an unequaled lyrical, even poetic approach to the ballistics, tactics, and firearms of a gunfight. Hunter’s novels (what a great last name, given his themes) combine authenticity with fascinating, compelling, real-feeling characters, and in The Third Bullet, he even adds a further dimension, experimenting with structure while embedding literary quotations. To me, he's a model of what a thriller author can be.”

    New York Times bestselling author of Force of Nature - C.J. Box

    “Only Stephen Hunter, with his brilliant knowledge of firearms, could have produced The Third Bullet and offered up a plausible explanation for one of our nation’s greatest mysteries. Despite the explosive subject matter, there is a jauntiness approaching pure joy in both the reading and the storytelling. This book will be huge.”

    #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Drop and The Black Box - Michael Connelly

    The Third Bullet is as riveting as it is ambitious. It's Stephen Hunter's best so far.”

    #1 New York Times bestselling author of Kill Shot - Vince Flynn

    “Like an elite sniper, Stephen Hunter zeroes in on one of the most infamous shots ever fired and delivers a mind-bending thriller that answers the question ‘What if?’ in astonishingly plausible detail. The Third Bullet is his best Bob Lee Swagger thriller yet.”

    #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Wanted Man and The Affair - Lee Child

    “The Swagger novel we've all been waiting for, and the Swagger novel Stephen Hunter was born to write . . . a magnificent thriller—and it might even be true.”

    New York Times bestselling author of The Disciple - Stephen Coonts

    “Stephen Hunter is the bullseye ace of the modern thriller, a cerebral mix of mystery, blood, brutality, treachery and suspense. The Third Bullet is Hunter at the absolute apex of his art. Come on—it's time to hunt!”

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    The Third Bullet 3.2 out of 5 based on 2 ratings. 77 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The second person format for much of book was different than I expected and it was slower reading than other Swagger Series.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I have been a Swagger fan for a long time. king This book was dull and boring. I could not even finish it. Far too much side tracking and little Swagger action. Hope the next one is more like the "old" Swagger.
    jkmsi More than 1 year ago
    My husband and I are big Stephen Hunter fans. As soon as one of his books come out we can't wait to get our hands on it to read. So of course we were ex cited  for The Third Bullet. However, I couldn't even make myself finish this book. The book was too wrought with details and other information that made the story boring. I hoped that as I continued through the book that it would get better but it didn't. I finally started reading the book from the back to the front to try and get myself engaged. Didn't happen. 
    231lc More than 1 year ago
    I have read sixteen of Hunter's books and highly rate most of them. This was a total disappointment. I quit a little after half way - little of Swagger, dull and boring.
    Zenbion More than 1 year ago
    I gave up after 70-80 pages. Had no clue where the story arc was or where it was going. Couldn't keep the characters straight. The premise had me very interested, but the writing never pulled me in enough to finish the book. Maybe his other books are better, but this one didn't work for me.
    cgm1952 More than 1 year ago
    boring, boring, boring. Slow moving and WAY too much technical info. This could have been a good book based on the subject matter but ended up just being a boring, slow moving novel. I still hope that I can finish it but if the next book I ordered is released before I finish I will probably just dump this one.
    lgken More than 1 year ago
    I normally like Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger novels but this one is far from the best one. The problem is the novel is dull, dull, dull. Very little action happens in the course of the story. Most of the book details the investigation Swagger does into who really shot JFK. However this is the dull legwork that any sensible author summarized in a short paragraph. But the nature of this book requires Hunter go into great detail about what Swagger does and finds. The result is chapter after chapter of not much of anything happening. Not recommended unless you have trouble falling asleep.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I am a big Stephen Hunter fan and in particular the Bob Lee Swagger Series, but this book was very difficult to read and extremely boring. Sorry that I bought it.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Mediocre ... Unfortunately..the pace was to slow and conclusions easily derived at. Moreover..there was far too little action to keep my interest. I hope Swagger has one more good adventure left in him.
    Anonymous 7 months ago
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I did not purchase a Bob Lee Swagart book to get a half baked plot with most Swagart content taken from earlier books. I won''t purchase another.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is one of the worst authors I've ever read. He writes like a student trying to be an author. Very difficult to get through this book. Way too much description, scanned through much of the book. Used words not normally used in everyday conversation. Seemed like he was trying to impress... I was not! Would never recommend this author to anyone.
    toadspad More than 1 year ago
    His last couple books lacked the intensity of his earlier books. Hard to stay interested at times.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    What is going on with this author ?
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    RCCnLA More than 1 year ago
    But you would expect nothing less from Bob Lee Swagger,would you? While I was in high school when JFK was killed, I never got in to the personality reportedly behind the shooting, Lee Harvey Oswald. Steven Hunter's novel suggests that it would be virtually impossible for Oswald to have murdered the President by himself because the equipment and shooter used were not up to the job. It is a novel, remember, and fans of Bob Lee will find it a page turner.
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