Review: The Bullet Garden, Earl Swagger #3 (Stephen Hunter)

The D-Day landings have been a success. The Allies are now in France. But they’re not making a great deal of headway because of one dreaded word: snipers.

The areas between the hedges are being called the bullet garden, thanks to snipers working seemingly without any limitations, picking off soldiers at will. It’s clear that to get going inland, the Allies are going to have to solve this particular problem.

Enter Gunnery Sergeant Earl Swagger. He is not, at this time, working as a sniper. Injured in the Pacific campaign, he’s now instructing fresh new Marines at Parris Island, dealing out hard truths. He’s talked into going to Europe for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) to flush out the snipers gumming up the works. He agrees, is giving a commission as a Major in the US Army, and put on a plane.

He’s given a staff, some offices, and told to get to work, which he does – much to the chagrin and annoyance of another officer, who doesn’t like any other fiefdoms clogging up his own fiefdom. Swagger isn’t one much for office politics and tells his staff – primarily, his second in command, who in reality outranks him, and his aide de camp – to ignore the other officer, as he’ll handle it. He does this as well, in a subtle way, the amusing lesson worthy of being taught to office workers in modern times.

In the meantime, in a sequence I personally thought funny as hell thanks to the crazy reasoning he gives, Swagger puts together a profile of the snipers to his boss and a couple of other brass, which they accept as sound. I’ll leave it at that so as not to spoil it, but I urge you to think hard on it as the book continues, to see if you can spot the reason why before Swagger explains it.

Swagger is then given a field team to go sniper hunting, which includes two young soldiers who left Harvard to join, and whom we met in the opening chapters. While some readers may be able to figure out the how of the snipers striking as they do, it’s much more difficult to get to the who of the group – and I certainly didn’t guess their identities.

There’s a subplot about a romance and a spy in the office, but the latter was dead easy to spot. That aside, it’s a terrific read and well worth the time to invest.

Four and a half out of five stars, rounded up to five.

Thanks to Atria/Emily Bestler Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

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