Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Front Sight by Stephen Hunter

 


Stephen Hunter, a poet of accurate gunplay among thriller writers. A man who often gets the violence right and extracts as much of the romanticism as he can to lean into realism offers us three novellas in this volume.

The first, “City of Meat” puts it in western territory by my reckoning as it takes place in the Depression Era Gangster days and is built on the premise of a Pretty Boy Floyd sighting in Chicago.

The writing quality is high, as the following extract shows regarding a visit to the massive stockyards and slaughter pens.

In a few minutes, he was sitting next to an elderly black man who owed him nothing and hardly noticed them. A slatternly old pony pulled a little cart along, driven by the casual slash of a whip Cracker snapped into its flanks. The pony, which could only be called You Poor Thing, pulled his wagon to the right under Cracker’s ungentle mandate, and they left the administrative city behind, entering the pens, unprotected by the bubble of his car, Charles experienced the smell full on. It seemed to double or triple, like a palpable cloud, a tear-bringer, like a phenomenon of the weather. It was everywhere and could not be avoided. Worse still, its fetid promise of nourishment brought flies in the billions, even some carrying birds silhouetted on bare branches, ready to pounce on the gobbet of beef, a foot, an eye, whatever spillage there was.

The other two novellas advance in time, one a 1940s noir piece and the final, a 1970s tribute to Italian giallo cinema.

The quality is high in all, if there is a quibble, it is that of all series characters—the end is a foregone conclusion—the author cannot risk killing the cash-cow, so there is seldom much surprise in these endeavors.

Still, the writing across all three is high.

I would love to see Mr. Hunter dip full-bore into the Western with no onus of preserving a character. Simply allow his muse to craft and beguile.

Three novellas, not a bad deal for the buck.

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