Point of Impact (Bob Lee Swagger Series #1)

Point of Impact (Bob Lee Swagger Series #1)

by Stephen Hunter

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Overview

“A harsh, visceral, novel of conspiracy and betrayal . . . a distrubing mix that plays on our sense of history while at the same time it appeals to our darkest fantasies of rough justice.”—Chicago Tribune 

The inspiration for the USA Network series Shooter 

He was one the best Marine snipers in Vietnam. Today, twenty years later, disgruntled hero of an unheroic war, all Bob Lee Swagger wants to be left alone and to leave the killing behind.

But with consummate psychological skill, a shadowy military organization seduces Bob into leaving his beloved Arkansas hills for one last mission for his country, unaware until too late that the game is rigged.

The assassination plot is executed to perfection—until Bob Lee Swagger, alleged lone gunman, comes out of the operation alive, the target of a nationwide manhunt, his only allies a woman he just met and a discredited FBI agent.

Now Bob Lee Swagger is on the run, using his lethal skills once more—but this time to track down the men who set him up and to break a dark conspiracy aimed at the very heart of America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553563511
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/28/1993
Series: Bob Lee Swagger Series , #1
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 75,217
Product dimensions: 4.18(w) x 6.86(h) x 1.29(d)

About the Author

Bestselling author Stephen Hunter is a staff writer and film critic for The Washington Post and winner of The American Society of Newspaper Editors Award for Distinguished Writing in Criticism (1998), as well as the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for film criticism that is "intellectually rewarding and a pleasure to read." He has written 11 novels, including Havana, Pale Horse Coming, Hot Springs, Time to Hunt, Black Light, Dirty White Boys, and The Day Before Midnight.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One




It was November, cold and wet in west Arkansas, a miserable dawn following on a miserable night. Sleet whistled through the pines and collected on the humps of stone that jutted out of the earth; low overhead, angry clouds hurtled by. Now and then the wind would rush through the canyons between the trees and blow the sleet like gunsmoke. It was the day before hunting season.

Bob Lee Swagger had placed himself just off the last climb that led up to Hard Bargain Valley, that flat splurge of tabletop high in the Ouachitas, and he sat in perfect silence and perfect stillness against an old pine, the rifle across his knees. This was Bob's first gift: the gift of stillness. He acquired it naturally, without instruction, from some inner pool where stress never reached. Back in 'Nam he was something of a legend for the nearly animallike way he could will his body reactions down, stiller than death.

The cold had fought through his wool leggings and up and under his down vest and begun to climb up his spine, like a sly little mouse. He gritted his teeth, fighting the urge to let them chatter. Now and then his hip throbbed from a wound from long ago. He instructed his brain to ignore the phantom ache. He was beyond will. He was in some other place.

He was earning Tim.

You see, he'd tell you, if you were one of the two or three men in the world he talked to–old Sam Vincent, say, the ex-Polk Country prosecutor, or maybe Doc LeMieux, the dentist, or Vernon Tell, the sheriff–you can't just shoot an animal. Shooting's the easy part. Any city dick can sit in a stand, drink hot coffee and wait till some doe goes prancing by, close enough to touch, and then put the muzzle of his Wal-Mart rifle and squeeze-jerk the trigger and blow a quart of her guts out and find her three counties away, bled out, her eyes still somehow beaming dumb pain.

You earned your shot, Bob would tell you, by letting whatever was happening to the animal happen to you and for however long. Fair was fair, after all.

Through the pines and the saplings, he could see the clearing 150 yards ahead, a little below, coming gradually into what small, low light there'd be that day. A trail ran through it, and at dawn and again at twilight he knew the animals would filter through, one by one, a buck and his harem. Last night, Bob had seen twelve, three bucks, one a nice fat eight-pointer even, and their ladies.

But he'd come for Tim. Old Tim, scarred and beat up, with many an adventure behind him. Tim would be alone, too: Tim didn't have a harem, and didn't need one anymore. One year Tim had had a prong of antler shot off by some lucky city dick from Little Rock and looked out of balance for a whole season. Tim had limped another whole year because Sam Vincent, not as spry as once he'd been, had held sloppy and put a .45-70 softpoint–too much gun, but Sam loved that old Winchester–into his haunches, and only bled him bad enough to kill any normal buck.

Tim was tough, Bob knew, and that was the kindest word he had for anybody, living or dead.

Bob was in his seventeenth hour of sitting. He had sat all night in the cold; and when, about four, sleet had started, he still sat. He was so cold and wet he was hardly alive, and now and again a picture of another time would come up before his eyes but always, he'd shake it out, keeping himself set on what lay ahead 150 yards.

Come on, you old bastard, he was thinking. I'm earning you.

Then he saw something. But it was only a doe and her fawn and in their lazy, confident, stupid animal way they came down the trail from the hill and began to move on down to graze in the lower forest, where some lucky city fool would certainly kill them.

Bob just sat there, next to his tree.



Dr. Dobbler swallowed, trying to read the mystery in Colonel Shreck's eyes. But as always, Shreck sat there with a fierce scowl masking his blunt features, radiating power and impatience and somehow scaring everybody in the room. Shreck was scary. He was the scariest man Dobbler had ever known, scarier even than Russell Isandhlwana, the dope dealer who had raped Dobbler in the showers of Norfolk State Penitentiary in Massachusetts and made the doctor his punk for a very, very long three months.

It was late. Outside the rain drummed on the tin roof of the Quonset. A stench of resting metal, old leather, dust, unwashed socks and stale beer hung in the room; it was a prison smell, though this wasn't a prison, but the field headquarters of an outfit calling itself RamDyne Security on several hundred obscure acres of untillable central Virginia.

The planners sat in front of the darkened room; the brutish Jack Payne, the second scariest man in the world, sat across the table; and that was all, such a tiny team for the immense and melancholy task that lay ahead of them.

On a small screen, four faces had been projected, now glowing in the dark. Each represented a hundred other possibilities; these men had been discovered by Research, investigated at length by Plans, watched by the pros from Operations, and then winnowed to this sullen quartet. It was Dobbler's job to break them down psychologically for Colonel Raymond Shreck's final decision.

Each of the final four had a flaw, of course. Dr. Dobbler pointed these out. He was, after all, still a psychiatrist, if now uncertified. Flaws were his profession.

"Too narcissistic," he said of one. "He spends too much on his hair. Never trust a man in a seventy-five-dollar haircut. He expects to be treated special. We need somebody who is special but has never been treated special."

As for Number 2, "Too smart. Brilliant, tactically brilliant. But always playing the games. Always thinking ahead. Never at rest."

Of the third, "Wonderfully stupid. But slow. Exactly what we need so far as certain qualities are required, and experienced in the technical area. Obedient as a dog. But slow. Too slow, too literal, too eager to please. Too rigid."

"I hear you flirting again, Dobbler," said Colonel Shreck, brutally. "Just give us the information, without the charm."

Dobbler winced.

"Well," he finally said, "that leave us with only one."



Jack Payne hated Dobbler. The softy Dobbler, with his big head, scraggly beard and long sensitive fingers, was everything pussy in the world. He had tits. He was almost a woman. He tried to turn everything into show.

Jack Payne was a dour, nasty-looking little man, tattooed and remote, with blank, tiny eyes in his meaty face. He was enormously strong, with a pain threshold that was off the charts. His specialty was getting things done, no matter what. He touched the cut-down Remington 1100 in its custom under-shoulder rig beneath his left arm. In the long tube under the barrel there were six double-ought 12-gauge shells. In each shell were nine .32 caliber pellets. He could fire fifty-four bullets in less than three seconds. Got lots of stuff done with that.

"The details are impressive," Dobbler was saying. "He killed eighty-seven men. That is, eighty-seven men stalked and taken under the most ferocious conditions. I think we'd all have to agree that's impressive."

There was a pause.

"I killed eighty-seven men in an afternoon," Jack said.

Jack had been stuck in a long siege at an A-team camp in the southern highlands, and in the last days the gooks had thrown human wave attacks at them.

"But all at once. With an M-60," said Colonel Shreck. "I was there too. Go ahead, Dobbler."

Dobbler was trembling, Jack could see. He still trembled when the colonel addressed him directly sometimes. Jack almost laughed. He smelled fear on the psychiatrist. He loved the odor of other men's fear.

But Dobbler pressed ahead. "This is none other than Gunnery Sergeant Bob Lee Swagger, USMC, retired, of Blue Eye, Arkansas. They called him 'Bob the Nailer.' He was the United States Marine Corps's second leading individual killer in Vietnam. Gentlemen, I give you the great American sniper."

Bob loved their magic. When he had hunted men, there was no magic. Men were stupid. They farted and yakked and gave themselves away miles before they moved into the killing zone.

But the deer, particularly the old Ouachita stags, appeared like ghosts, simply exploding out of brushy nothingness, as if they were superior visitors from another planet. And they were superior, in their way, Bob knew: their senses so razor keen, everything focused on the next two minutes. That was their secret. They didn't think about the last two minutes, which had ceased entirely to exist in the second after they were experienced, had evaporated entirely. They only thought about the next two minutes. No past, no real future. There was only now.

And so when Tim materialized with the force of a sharp memory out of the thin Arkansas pines, stunning Bob with his beauty, he did not quite surprise him.

Bob had learned years back in hard places that surprise was dangerous. It made you jerk awkwardly upon the first moment of encounter, and you gave away your edge.

So Bob's initial reaction to Tim was nothing that his body showed.

He was downwind, so no odors would reach Tim's keen nostrils, though Bob of course had washed yesterday with odorless soap; he'd air-dried his clothes; he'd washed his mouth out with peroxide so no tang of toothpaste could hang in the forest air.

The animal's head twitched and turned, and unerringly turned to Bob.

You can't see me, Bob thought. I know how you operate. You can see motion, you're a smart boy at picking out a flick of motion, scampering off to safety; but you can't see pattern. Here I sit, and you're looking right at me and you can't see me.

Bob let the beast's gaze wash over him, then felt it slide away. This was the part he liked the best, the exciting fragility of it all, the flimsiness of the connections that brought buck and man together through the medium of the rifle, but only for a few seconds, and knowing that in a minute, if the buck held, if the wind held, if his nerve held, if his luck held, he'd have Tim in his cross hairs.

He lifted the rifle.

It was a Remington 700 bolt action, lovingly purchased by the Marine Marksmanship Team and presented to him as a retirement gift when he'd been invalided out of the Corps in 1975. It had a heavy varmint barrel which almost neutralized vibration when he fired, though Bob had since replaced the original barrel with a stainless steel one from Hart, which he'd then finished with Teflon so the whole piece had the appearance of old pewter. The barrel, action and even the screws were bedded in Devcon aluminum into a black fiberglass and Kevlar stock. The screws were torqued through aluminum pilars, tightened to sixty pounds. The rifle was purely ugly. It was a .308 Winchester, and one of Bob's own handloads now rested in the chamber.

Bob slid the rifle up in a smooth and practiced motion, economical from long years of repetition. Under slightly less adverse conditions he would have elected the prone, the stablest shooting position, but since he knew he'd have to be still for so long he had been afraid the contact with the cold ground would chill his body numb. Instead, he drew the rifle up to his shoulder, notching his elbows inside his splayed knees, canting his shoulders, locking his arms under the rifle's ten pounds so that it was supported off bone, not muscle; he was building a bone bridge, running from the piece itself to the ground, anchoring it so that no whimsy of muscle fiber, no throb of heart or twitch of pulse, could deflect him at the last moment.

Bob's eye slid behind the scope, a Leupold 10x. The bold optics of the magnification, snatching every bit of light from the air, threw up Tim's head and shoulders ten time the size of life. Again the animal turned toward him, though this time he was projected against the intersection of the cross hairs.

With a thumb, Bob snicked off the safety and settled in to shoot.

I've earned you, you son of a bitch, he thought. And by God I own your ass. You are mine.

His heart seemed to thump a bit. Now he was trying to slip into that calm pool of near-nothingness where the little patch on the tip of his finger just took over as if on auto-pilot, reading the play of the cross hairs, matching their rhythm, anticipating their direction.

Okay, Bob thought, as he made the minute corrections and the cross hairs settled on Tim's spine as he nimbly licked ice-glazed shoots from a tree, okay now I own you.

Customer Reviews

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Point of Impact (Bob Lee Swagger Series #1) 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 271 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read it from start to finish non-stop. Great character development. Please don't judge this book by the movie. Read all of this authors books they are worth it. Most rate four to five stars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book when it first hit paperback in the 90's on the recommendation of an older lady at my local book store. Phenomenal read and one of my favorites ever. Proof this is not simply a macho story. I don't normally read a story more than once, but I have read this one three times and recommend it to every reader I know.
IDJeepTJ More than 1 year ago
Once I started reading this book, I couldn't put it down! Hunter's writing style was captivating and his description of small arms weaponry was spot-on! Loved it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This remains one of my favorite books of all time. Bob Lee Swagger is the ultimate hero, beyond cool, and the plot is a real page turner. This book made me write a letter of praise to the author, something I had never been moved to do before.
fooman2008 More than 1 year ago
What could be a familiar tale of revenge and a crusade for the truth is spun into so much more. There is a chapter where our hero (Bob the Nailer) confronts the basis of the entire assassination plot, and shows why he is what he is (one of the best in the world behind a rifle), and taughtly written courtroom scene, some light romance, office politics, and even some history all thrown in. My favorite quote; "my men have your boyfriend on top of a hill and are going to kill him." The reply; "you don't get it do you? he loves hills if he is on the top of that hill that is where WANTS to be!" Foo
Published_Author More than 1 year ago
I am about 2/3 into this thrilling book. This novel truly is a page-turner. I hope the ending is even better!!! I hope to rent the DVD after the conclusion of the book. BUY IT!!!
TBrokaw More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books, and then they had to butcher it in movie form.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Better than the movie which was also great!
Anonymous 5 months ago
Fast+moving+
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written. Hard to put down. Quite accurate in detail with a very compelling plot!
lauranav on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I haven't seen the movie. The book was a great read. Lots of details about guns and distances and what's possible. It never got boring, and the use of terms and details that I don't understand were brief and I got the point. The characters were interesting, from the young FBI agent, the psychiatrist, the few women. I liked the way the lead character was able to predict and know what his adversaries were going to do. The psychiatrist and the frame-up team were able to figure out how to play Bob to get him where they wanted him. I think it's about as likely that he was able to predict what they would try. We see him demonstrate that in the effort he puts in to identify the possible assassination options leading up to the frame-up.Lots of details, investigations that actually lead to some information that people understand and follow, plus a few men who know how to stop and think like someone else to figure out their actions. I liked the intricate details as each side tried to figure out, plan for, and outwit the other side. An exciting read that I hated to put down.
velopunk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I haven't read the Swagger books in order and still have several to polish off. This is my favorite so far. I have not seen the movie based on this book but plan to. Now I see where Nick Memphis fits in and things are a lot clearer. Great book.
Jensen.Schmidt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Point of Impact is about Bob Lee Swagger being a Marine snipers in Vietnam. Bob Lee Swagger just wants to be left alone and to leave the killing behind. But with consummate psychological skills, a military organization seduces Bob into leaving his beloved Arkansas hills for one last mission for his country, unaware until too late that the game is rigged. The assassination plot is executed to perfection until Bob Lee Swagger comes out of the operation alive. The target of a nationwide manhunt, his only allies a woman he just met and a discredited FBI agent. Now Bob Lee Swagger is on the run, using his lethal skills once more, but this time to track down the men who set him up and to break a dark conspiracy aimed at the very heart of America. Point of Impact was a very interesting book to read. I liked how the story was and also how the plot went. I also liked how the plot when with the story line. It was so good that I didnt want to put the book down. It kept me very interseted in the book. The book had a lot of action as well. If you like an entertaining books I would highly recomemd it to absolutly anyone.
Brevard6278 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thought it was a great book myself. Very different from the movie. Which I thought was a great movie. I see the story line in both but one Swagger in the book fought in Nam and was older. Swagger in the movie was younger and in the Middle East. Hunter has to be one of my favorite authors.
mrtall on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Let's just say if you've got a member of a gun control group on your Christmas list, this book would be the worst possible gift! Stephen Hunter's Point of Impact is a lovingly-crafted mash note to precision firearms, and it's excellent. Bob Lee Swagger was the creme de la creme of Vietnam snipers, but he's at loose ends back in civilian life. So he's eager to take up a sniping-analysis job that's a perfect exercise of his unique skills. Could it be too good to be true? And how!Although Bob Lee is not the world's most realistic character, as other reviewers have noted, he's not really the point here. It's the guns that are the real focus of point of impact, and they're handled with consummate skill worthy of Bob Lee himself. Recommended.
crazybatcow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's quite fast paced - lots of activity going on. The scene moves from one character to another and back again several times in a chapter; I guess this is to increase the suspense level. In some ways it is quite suspenseful because it is so detailed and complex that you can't really figure out how Bob is going to get out of it, but, of course, you know he must.The violence is pretty "distant" since much/most of the killing is done by gun, and done at long distances so you don't get much up-close-and-personal butt kicking, though there is a bit of that. The story covers a long-ish time frame (months I guess) but doesn't feel like it. A lot happens, and the story requires that you accept there are secret government conspiracies that cause/hide atrocities. Oh, and that you at least are not anti-gun because there's a lot of gun detail here.I will read more in the series, though (or maybe because) I can't see where the author can go with Bob Lee Swagger after how this one ended.
TadAD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a fun read and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a typical techno-thriller. On the positive side, the book moves quickly, with lots of twists and turns to the plot, the action is fairly relentless, and the view into the technical side of the sniper profession is very interesting.On the negative side, the hero is just a bit too much of a superman. This isn't in reference to his shooting ability¿there are documented cases of Viet Nam and Middle East snipers doing the same things. No, Swagger's superpowers were in his ability to completely predict everything his adversaries were going to do, right down to the second. It disturbed the flow of the book at times. It wasn't unduly unsettling; I just tend to prefer my characters to be slightly more believable.I had seen the movie based upon this book..."Shooter"...before reading the novel and, even though I knew some of the plot twists, I still enjoyed it enough to read it in a single sitting. Give it a try if you like the genre.As a side note, reading reviews of the sequel, The 47th Samurai, I understand that Swagger's superabilities extend to becoming a world-class master of the samurai sword with about a week's practice, so I think I'll just stop here. Those kinds of things should be left for Dirk Pitt or other protagonists whose authors have their tongues firmly in their cheeks.
jwcooper3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was intrigued after watching the (lame) film Shooter, which is based on this book, to see just how badly Hollywood screwed it up. My hunch was that the damage was extensive as the film was poorly done, but the story idea was a good one. Knowing Stephen Hunter is a damn fine writer I figured I had nothing to loose. My hunch was correct, Point of Impact is a taut thriller with great characters and deeply researched back up information to move the story along. In short, read the book; skip the movie.
AvidMysteryreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the book that the movie Shooter was based upon. The book is DRASTICALLY different than the movie. The book is set earlier, like after the Viet Nam War. I had a difficult time getting through this book. It is okay and if you liked the movie, do not read this book. It will just confuse you when you see the movie again.
jimmaclachlan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bob Lee Swagger is a tough, unforgettable character. The action, settings & plot are all plausible. If you like conspiracy theories, guns & snipers, it's a great read. Well written & thought out.The biggest surprise to me was that when I tried to re-read the books maybe 5 years later, I couldn't get back into it. I didn't think of it as a read-once book. It's better than that. Maybe a little too good & I remembered it too well to make a re-read worth it. Usually my memory is worse than that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well researched, a story told well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dramatically gripping
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once you get past the first few chapters it's rip roaring good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story!