Time to Hunt (Bob Lee Swagger Series #3)

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He's the most dangerous man alive. He only wants to live in peace with his family. It's not going to happen.

Stephen Hunter's epic national bestsellers, Point of Impact and Black Light, introduced millions to Bob Lee Swagger, aka "Bob the Nailer," a heroic but flawed Vietnam War veteran forced twice to use his skills as a master sniper to defend his life and his honor. Now, ...
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Time to Hunt (Bob Lee Swagger Series #3)

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He's the most dangerous man alive. He only wants to live in peace with his family. It's not going to happen.

Stephen Hunter's epic national bestsellers, Point of Impact and Black Light, introduced millions to Bob Lee Swagger, aka "Bob the Nailer," a heroic but flawed Vietnam War veteran forced twice to use his skills as a master sniper to defend his life and his honor. Now, in his grandest, most intensely thrilling adventure yet, Bob the Nailer must face his deadliest foe from Vietnam—and his own demons—to save his wife and daughter.

During the latter days of the Vietnam War, deep in-country, a young idealistic Marine named Donny Fenn was cut down by a sniper's bullet as he set out on patrol with Swagger, who had always assumed the bullet was meant for him. Years later, Swagger marries Donny's widow Julie, and together they raise their daughter Nikki on a ranch in the isolated Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Although he struggles with the painful legacy of Vietnam, Swagger's greatest wish, to leave his violent past behind and live quietly with his family, seems to have come true.

Then one idyllic day, a man, a woman and a girl set out from the ranch on horseback. High on a ridge above a mountain pass, a thousand yards distant, a calm, cold-eyed man, one of the world's greatest marksmen, peers through a telescopic site at the three approaching figures. Out of his tortured past, a mortal enemy has once again found Bob the Nailer.

With a plot that sweeps from the killing fields of Vietnam to the corridors of power in Washington, to the shadowy plots of the new world order, Stephen Hunter delivers all the complex action hisfans demand in a masterful tale of family heartbreak and international intrigue.
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Editorial Reviews

A head rush of a thriller.
Dallas Morning News
Thrillerdom's equivalent of From Here to Eternity...an utterly irresistible saga.
Chicago Tribune
Some of the fiercest and most compelling fiction on the shelves...Hunter is a master at creating large, sweeping plots.
Houston Chronicle
Hunter is a superb writer...Time to Hunt is one of his best.
Library Journal
When a sniper shoots a man in the mountains of Idaho and wounds the woman who is with him, it is not an isolated incident but the deliberate culmination of events that began during the Vietnam War. Bob Lee Swagger, who was a Marine sniper in Vietnam known as "Bob for the Nailer" for his lethal shooting, at first believes that he was the gunman's intended target. The wounded woman is his wife and the widow of his wartime comrade, Donny Fenn. Donny had been killed by a Russian sniper assigned the task of neutralizing Bob, or so Bob had always believed. But now it seems possible that Donny might have been the main target all those years ago and that it is Donny's widow that the sniper has come to kill, not Bob. Both a gripping war novel and a complex thriller coiled around the convoluted intrigues of the supposedly concluded Cold War, this is page-turning entertainment that will delight action adventure readers. -- Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, MA
Kirkus Reviews
Bob Lee Swagger, master sniper, returns (Black Light, 1996; Point of Impact, 1993), which means testosterone at the boil, gore galore, and filled-up body bags row on row. A super-sniper (not the illustrious Swagger but his nemesis Solaratov) shakes off the Arizona morning chill, hunkers over (for those who care) a "Remington 700, with H-S Precision fiberglass stock and Leupold 10X scope," and seconds later a "man's chest explodes" (snipers in this novel miss maybe once a decade). Flash back, then, to 1965. The war in Vietnam is winding down and, tragically, a young marine, Swagger's partner, is blown away the day before he would have finished his tour. Are the two super-sniper incidents connected? Though for years Swagger has believed that the bullet that killed his friend was meant for him, events in the present prove him wrong. Unwillingly, then, he has to face the terrible fact that the death of his friend in 1965 was just the first act in a violent melodrama that now threatens his wife who was once married to his long-dead comrade. The answer behind the decades-old conspiracy is as convoluted as it is nefarious, involving chicanery in the corridors of power. Swagger, however, has little time to fritter away on inductive reasoning, since it's time to hunt for that enemy sniper and take him out before harm can come to the innocent and helpless. "You're a sacred killer," an admirer tells Swagger. "Every society needs one." Whether that's true or not, the stage is set for a grim denouement, and Swagger drops from a helicopter—demigod ex machina—to frustrate evil. Hunter's prose doesn't get much above pedestrian, and the dialogue is particularly weak. But Swaggerin battle—brandishing his wondrous rifle, Excalibur with a trigger—will hold most and enthrall some.
From the Publisher
"Stephen Hunter is in a class by himself.  Time to Hunt is as vivid and haunting as a moving target in the crosshairs of a sniper scope."
—Nelson Demille, author of Mayday

"Stephen Hunter is simply the best writer of action fiction in the world and Time to Hunt proves it."
—Phillip Margolin, author of The Burning Man

"The best straight-up thriller writer at work today."
—Rocky Mountain News

"Thrilling in the manner of ancient storytellers, with battles fierce enough for a war and characters crazy enough to fight them to the death."
—New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553477498
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/18/1998
  • Series: Bob Lee Swagger Series, #3
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged, 4 Cassettes, 6 hrs.
  • Product dimensions: 4.17 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Hunter

Stephen Hunter is the author of eight novels with over three million copies in print, including the national bestsellers Black Light, Dirty White Boys, and Point of Impact.  He is also a film critic for the Washington Post and the author of a nonfiction collection of his criticism, Violent Screen.  He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Read an Excerpt

"You will crawl all night," Huu Co explained to the Russian. "If you do not make it, they will see you in the morning and kill you."

If he expected the man to react, once again, he was wrong. The Russian responded to nothing. He seemed, in some respects, hardly human. Or at least he had no need for some of the things humans needed: rest, community, conversation, humanity even. He never spoke. He appeared phlegmatic to the point of being almost vegetable. Yet at the same time he never complained, he would not wear out, he applied no formal sense of will against Huu Co and the elite commandos of the 45th Sapper Battalion on their long Journey of Ten Thousand Miles, down the trail from the North. He never showed fear, longing, thirst, discomfort, humor, anger or compassion. He seemed not to notice much and hardly ever talked, and then only in grunts.

He was squat, isolated, perhaps desolated. In his army, Huu Co's heroes were designated "Brother Ten" when they distinguished themselves by killing ten Americans: this man, Huu Co realized, was Brother Five Hundred, or some such number. He had no ideology, no enthusiasms; he simply was. Solaratov: solitary. The lone man. It suited him well.

The Russian looked across the fifteen hundred yards of flattened land to the Marine base the enemy called Dodge City, studying it. There was no approach, no visible approach, except on one's belly, the long, long way.

"Could you hit him from this range?"

The Russian considered.

"I could hit a man from this range, yes," he finally said. "But how would I know it was the right man? I cannot see a face from this distance. I have to hit the right man; that is thepoint."

The argument was well made.

"So then . . . you must crawl."

"I can crawl."

"If you hit him, how will you get out?"

"This time I'm only looking. But when I hit him, I'll wait till dark, then come out the same way I came in."

"They'll call in mortars, artillery, napalm even. It is their way."

"Yes, I may die."

"In napalm? Not pleasant. I've heard many scream as it ate the flesh from their bones. It's over in an instant, but I had the impression it was a long instant."

The Russian merely glared at him, no recognition in his eyes at all, even though they'd lived in close proximity for a week and had for days before that pored over the photos and the mock-up of Dodge City.

"My advice, comrade brother," said Huu Co, "is that you follow the depression in the earth three hundred meters. You move at dark, in maximum camouflage. They have nightscopes and they will be hunting. But the scopes aren't one hundred percent reliable. It'll be a long stalk, a terrible stalk. I can only hope you are up to it and that your heart is strong and pure."

"I have no heart," said the solitary man. "I am the sniper."

For the first recon, Solaratov did not take his case, which by now all considered a rifle sheath. He carried no weapons except a SPETSNAZ dagger, black and thin and wicked.

He left at nightfall, dappled in camouflage, looking more like an ambulatory swamp than a man. Behind his back, the sappers called him not the Solitary Man or the Russian but, with the eternal insouciance of soldiers, the Human Noodle, because the stalks were stiff like unboiled noodles. In seconds, as he slithered off through the elephant grass, he was invisible.

Huu Co noted that his technique was extraordinary, a mastery of the self. This was the ultimate slow. He moved with delicacy, one limb at a time, a pace so slow and deliberate it almost didn't exist. Who would have patience for such a journey?

"He is mad," one of the sappers said to another.

"All Russians are mad," said the other. "You can see it in their eyes."

"But this one is really mad. He's nuts!"

The sappers waited quietly underground, in elaborate tunnels built in the Year of the Snake, 1965. They cooked meals, enjoyed jury-rigged showers and treated the event almost like a furlough. It was a happy time for men who had fought hard, been wounded many times. At least six of them were Brothers Ten. They were shrewd, experienced professionals.

For his time, Huu Co studied the photographs or waited up top, hidden in the grass, using up his eyestrain to stare at the strange fort fifteen hundred yards off, which looked so artificial cut into the earth of his beloved country by men from across the sea with a different sensibility and no sense of history.

He waited, staring at the sea of grass. His arm hurt. He could hardly close his hand. When he grew bored, he snatched a book from his tunic, in English. It was Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein, very amusing. It took him away from this world but always, when Frodo's adventures vanished, he had to return to Firebase Dodge City and his deepest question: when would the sniper return?

The fire ants were only the first of his many ordeals. Attracted to his sweat, they came and crawled into the folds of his neck, tasting his blood, crawling, biting, feasting. He was a banquet for the insect world. After the ants, others were drawn. Mosquitoes big as American helicopters buzzed around his ears, lit on his face, stung him gently and departed, bloated. What else? Spiders, mites, ticks, dragonflies, the whole phyla drawn to the miasma of decay a sweating man produces in the tropics on a hot morning. But not maggots. Maggots are for the dead, and perhaps in some way the maggots respected him. He was not dead and, moreover, he fed the maggots much in his time on earth. They left him alone.

It wasn't that Solaratov was beyond feeling such things. He felt them, all right. He felt every sting, bite, prick or tweak; his aches and swellings and blotches and throbbings were the same as any man's. He had just somehow managed to disconnect the feeling part of his body from the registering part of his brain. It can be learned, and at the upper reaches of the performance envelope, among those who are not merely brave, willful or dedicated but truly among the best in the world, extraordinary things are routine.

He lay now in the elephant grass, approximately one hundred yards from the sandbag perimeter of Firebase Dodge City, just outside the double strands of concertina wire. He could see Claymore mines facing him from a dozen angles, and the half-buried detonators of other, larger mines. But he could also hear American rock and roll bellowing out of the transistor radios all the young Marines seemed to carry, and listening to it was his only pleasure.

"I can't get no satisfaction," someone sang with a loud raspy voice, and Solaratov understood: he could get no satisfaction either.

The Marines were unbearably sloppy. He had seen the Israelis from extremely close range in some of his ops and the British SAS and even the fabled American Green Berets; all were sound troops. These boys thought the war was over for them; they were worse than Cubans or Angolans. They lounged around sunbathing, played touch football or baseball or basketball, sneaked out to smoke hemp, got in fights or got drunk. Their sentries slept at night. The officers didn't bother to shave. Nobody dressed in anything resembling a uniform, and most spent the days in shorts, undershirts (or shirtless) and shower shoes.

Even when they went on combat patrol, they were loud and stupid. The point men paid no attention, the flank security drifted in toward the column, the machine gunner had his belts tangled around him, and his assistant, with other belts, fell too far behind him to do him any good in a fight. Clearly they had not been in a fight in months, if ever; clearly they expected no such thing to occur as they waited for the order to leave the country.

Once, a patrol stumbled right over him. Five men, hustling through the elephant grass on the way out for a night ambush mission, walked so close to him that if any had been even remotely awake, they would have killed him easily. He saw their jungle boots, big as mountains, just inches from his face. But two of the men were listening to radios, one was clearly high, one so young and frightened he belonged in school, and the platoon leader, stuck with these silly boys, looked terrified. Solaratov knew exactly what would happen; the patrol would go out a thousand yards and the sergeant would hunker them down in some high grass, where they'd sit all night, smoking and talking and pretending they weren't at war. In the morning the sergeant would bring them in and file a no-contact report. It was the kind of war fought by men who'd rather be anywhere except in the war.

Each night, Solaratov would relieve himself, hand-bury his feces, drink from his canteen and slowly, ever so slowly change position. He didn't care what was in the encampment, but he had to know by what routes an experienced man would make an egress on the way to a hunting mission. How would Swagger take his spotter out? Which part of the sandbag berm would they go over and from what latitudes was it accessible to rifle fire?

He made careful notes, identifying eight or nine spots where there appeared to be a lane through the wire and the Claymores and the mines, where an experienced man would travel efficiently; of course, conversely, the other Marines would stay well clear of these areas. He read the land, looking for folds that led out of the camp to the treeline, or a progression of obstacles behind which two men, moving quickly, could transverse on the way to the job. They were the only two men still fighting the war; they were the only two men keeping this place alive. He wondered if the other soldiers knew it. Probably not.

Twice, he saw Swagger himself and felt the hot rush of excitement a hunter sees when his prey steps into the kill zone. But always, he cautioned himself to be slow, be sure, not to become excited; that caused mistakes.

From this vantage point, Swagger was a tall, thin, hard man, who always appeared parade-ground neat in his camouflaged tunic. Solaratov could read his contempt for the boys of Dodge City, but also his restraint, his disinterest, his commitment to his own duties that kept him apart from them. He was aloof, walking alone always: Solaratov knew this well—it was the sniper's way. The Russian also noted that when Swagger walked through the compound, even the loudest and most disgruntled of the Marines grew quickly still and pretended to work. He worked silently, and moved with economy of motion and style. But he was not going on missions for now, and seemed to spend much of his time indoors, in a bunker that was probably intelligence or communications.

On the last day, he saw him again, from an even closer vantage point. Solaratov had worked up until he was but fifty meters from the complex of huts where Swagger seemed to spend most of his time, in hopes of getting a good look into the face of the man he proposed to kill. By this time he was quite bold, convinced that the Marines were too narcissistic to notice his presence even if he stood and announced it through a bullhorn.

It was after the daily helicopter flight. The Huey dipped in fast, landed at the firebase's LZ, and a young man jumped out, even as the rotors still spun and kicked up a pall of dust; he disappeared into the complex but in time Solaratov saw him, this time with Swagger. It looked almost to be a fight. The two raged at each other, far from the others. If he were armed, it might have been a chance to take them both, but there was no escape and if he'd fired shots, even these childish troopers could have brought massive firepower to bear and gotten him. That wasn't the point: he wasn't on a suicide mission. He would never give himself up for an objective, unless there was no other way and the objective represented something that was his own passionate, deeply held conviction, not a job for another department, that he didn't fully trust to begin with.

So he just listened and watched. The two had it out. It was like a final confrontation between a proud father and his disappointing son or an upright son and his disappointing father. He could hear the anger and the betrayal and the accusation in the voices.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" the older man kept screaming in the English that the Russian had studied for years.

"You cannot do this to me! You do not have the moral authority to do this to me!" the younger screamed back.

On and on it went, like a grand scene from Dostoyevsky. It was a mark of how each man was held in the respect of his comrades that no witnesses intruded, no officers interceded; their anger drove the young Marines, normally working hard on their suntans by this time, inside.

Finally, the two men reached some kind of rapprochement; they went back into the intelligence bunker, and after a while the young man left alone and went over to what must have been the living quarters, where he would bunk. He emerged an hour or so later, in full combat gear, with a rifle and a flack vest and went back to the intelligence bunker.

Solaratov knew: At last, the spotter is back.

There were no other sightings that day, and at nightfall, Solaratov finished his last canteen, rolled over and began the long crawl back to the tunnel complex in the treeline more than a thousand yards away.

"Senior Colonel, the Human Noodle is here!"

The call, from a sergeant, rocked Huu Co out of sleep. It was a good thing, too. As on most nights, he was reliving the moment when the American Phantoms came roaring down the valley and the napalm pods tumbled lazily from under their wings. They hit about fifty meters ahead of his forward position in the valley and bounced majestically, pulling a curtain of living flame behind them.

He arose swiftly and located the Russian, eating with gusto and lack of sophistication in the tunnel's mess hall. The Russian devoured everything in sight, including noodles, fish head soup, chunks of raw cabbage, beef, pork, tripe. He ate with his fingers, which were now coated with grease; he ate with perfect clarity and concentration, pausing now and then for a satisfying belch, or to wipe a paw across his greasy mouth. He drank too, glass after glass of tea and water. Finally, when he was done, he asked for vodka, which was produced, a small Russian bottle. He finished it in a single draught.

At last, he turned and faced the senior colonel.

"Now I wash, then I sleep. Maybe forty-eight hours. Then, on the third day, I will move out."

"You have a plan."

"I know when and where he'll leave, and how he'll move. It's in the land. If you can read the land, you can read the other man's mind. I'll kill them both three days from now."

For the first time, he smiled.

From the Paperback edition.

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 73 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 74 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 30, 2011

    Highly recommended-well done by Mr. Bridges

    I enjoyed the audio book very much. A very good story. An excellent interpretaion and characterization by Mr. Bridges. Well done!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Hunter writes a thrill a minute

    This man deserves the Pulitzer he won. the Swagger family is endless each one connecting, intertwining, thrills galore and never a let down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2000

    The Best Book Ever Written

    When I saw this book on my dad's dusty old bookshelf, I knew that this would be the one; the book that keeps you up for all hours of the night, not just a page turner, but a real time consumer. For as long as it takes you to read this book, you will live and breathe this book. The characters are described to the utmost detail. I cought myself relating to them a few times! Here's the bottomline: if you like books, read Time to Hunt. You WILL NOT REGRET IT.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2000

    Bob 'The Nailer' Swagger At His Best Again!

    Hunter has another smash bestseller featuring Bob Lee ' The Nailer' Swagger. Be sure you have a lot of free time when you start Time To Hunt book because once you do you'll be hooked. Time To Hunt has it all--great plot, interesting characters, lots of action and surprises, etc., etc., etc. One of the most interesting aspects of this book is how Bob Lee became 'The Nailer' in Vietnam. Just when you think Bob Lee has suffered enough and deserves to enjoy the rest of his life in peace, Hunter comes up with another traumatic adventure for him. While I don't know what, if anything, Hunter has in store for Swagger, I can't wait to read it. Now, do yourself a favor--but a copy of Time To Hunt as soon as it comes out, cancel all plans and prepare yourself for a real reading pleasure.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 15, 2014

    "Fills Out The Background Nicely"

    I admit it: I have become a Steven Hunter fan because of Bob Lee Swagger. I started reading the "Sniper" stories out of order, so references to "Donny" and their big last day were a bit frustrating. " Time To Hunt" fills all that time in Vietnam nicely.I'm working may way through the whole series now. Thank you, Steven Hunter, for another great read.

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  • Posted July 15, 2012

    Very highly recommended

    I have now read all of the books in the Bob Lee Swagger series. This one is my favorite. The combat scenes are unforgetable, and the exploration of how the Vietnam war impacted a whole generation is probably the best I've seen in fiction. (Disclaimer: I don't read a lot of war stories.)

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  • Posted June 4, 2012

    Probably my favorite Bob Lee Swagger book because it starts at t

    Probably my favorite Bob Lee Swagger book because it starts at the beginning of his association with Donny Fenn and goes through the end of the war and beyond. Truly excellent writing and worth more than one reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2011

    Wanting more

    This book will get you hooked on Hunter

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2010


    why isn't this available in ebook?????

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    "There is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast." Charles Dickens

    4 1/2 stars.

    "Time to Hunt" tells the story of Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger and his spotter, Donnie Fenn.

    As the story opens, Donnie is being sent back to Viet Nam as a punishment for not betraying a fellow Marine who was associating with peace marchers in Washington, D.C. Since Donnie only had a bit more than a year left on his enlistment, a tour in Viet Nam was unusual punishment.

    When he meets Bob Lee Swagger and they travel "in country" in Viet Nam, they cause such damage to the Viet Cong that the V.C. officials contact their Russian advisor. A Russian sniper named Soloratov recognizes Swagger's work from the weapon and ammunition used. Soloratov is sent into the field to eliminate Swagger and his spotter.

    This is the second time I've read this novel and it is still as fresh and dramatic as it was originally. I found myself gasping with the tension and suspense. The author provided excellent plot twists that adds a unexpected development to the story. Needless to say, nothing was what it seemed to be. The action went from Viet Nam, to Swagger's home, a farm in Idaho, and then back to Washington, D. C.

    The novel is a good example of why Hunter is considered one of the top thriller writers in America. The plot is original and Swagger is an appealing, heroic character.

    Highly recommended.

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  • Posted August 23, 2009

    Excellent read

    Good writing and good plot... Hope they make a movie out of it...we loved The Shooter and this is the sequel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2003

    Great Book....Great Series of Books

    I absolutely loved this book. I could hardly put it down every night when I read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2002

    Best ever

    I have never liked to read...every single book that i have read besides this one i couldn't read it for more then a few min. but this book is the only book that i have ever loved to read. It is one of the best books ever (to me atleast).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2000


    When I picked up Time To Hunt, I had no idea I'd be spending almost all my off hours reading it. It's that good!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2000

    Action Packed!

    It's a non stop action roller coaster that get's better with every turn of a page. I couldn't put the book down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2015

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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