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Bookends; Another look at the Kennedy assassination January 28, 2016

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Bookends; Another look at the Kennedy assassination

By Dan Davidson

June 24, 2015

– 797 words –

The Third BulletThird Bullet

by Stephen Hunter

Pocket Books

538 pages

$12.99

It’s a sign of how old Stephen Stills’ protest anthem, “For What it’s Worth” is, that it can now be used as the section headings in a thriller.

“There’s something happening here”

James Aptapton had no idea what sort of trouble he had got himself into when he started looking into the events of November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was killed. On the night that the Russian assassin in the high poweredApparently someone thought it would be too good a book. We’ll be a while learning just who that was.

“What it is ain’t exactly clear”

Bob Lee Swagger doesn’t want anything to do with the case that Aptapton’s wife
comes to Idaho to persuade him to take, but he becomes fascinated with it in spite of himself, because the book her husband had been going to work on dealt with a very old puzzle that that never set quite right with him.

It doesn’t hurt that as soon as he begins to poke around the clues that had inspired Aptapton, he finds himself the target of the same type of murder. Of course, because he’s expecting it, and because he is one of the best snipers ever trained, has survived to the age of 60+, and is very canny, things don’t work out well for the killer.

Travelling to Russia to track down why a Russian assassin would have been looking to kill him winds Swagger up in a whole bunch more trouble and provides him, though not us, with some essential clues. At this point he knows who must have actually shot Kennedy and has worked out a theory, based on his extensive knowledge of firearms and bullets, as to how it might have been done without leaving any evidence behind.

“There’s a man with a gun over there”

Now just where would that be? Why are the Russians involved? Where did the fatal bullet that finally killed Kennedy actually come from? Why is a thin tire mark on a hidden overcoat reeking of gun oil and found in the Daltex building, just down the street from the Texas Book Depository from which Oswald shot, significant?

It is in this third section of the book, more than half of the page count, that Swagger’s third person narrative begins to alternate with the first person memoirs of Hugh Meachum, a long retired and officially deceased CIA case officer, the man who ran Lee Harvey Oswald, recruited the real assassin, and actually masterminded the Kennedy assassination.

From here on we plunge into the past and follow Meachum’s narrative of what happened, how it was really all a bit of an accident until just a few days before the event. Meachum sees himself as a professional patriot and had set out to eliminate an entirely different person as a threat to national security, until fate dropped the Kennedy visit to Dallas right into the middle of his carefully worked out plot.

At the same time we are following Swagger’s progress in figuring it out, getting some pretty extensive technical lectures about rifles, scopes, suppressors and bullets, and yet, not actually being bored because there’s a lot going on and the past and present stories are coming together.

“Telling me I got to beware”

So we come to the denouement, brought to us in the final 30 or so pages of the book. It all comes together, but not quite the way case officer Meachum had planned. It’s quick but it doesn’t seem rushed, because we got there in such careful stages, but I’m not going to say very much about it.

The book concludes with Hunter’s 15 page analysis of why this theory works as a story, even if it might not be true. He also explains how tinkering with this idea years back actually led him to come up with the Swagger character in the first place and have him play the Oswald role (only with better results) in the first book of the series, Point of Impact, which later became the movie, Shooter.

Seven books and 10 years later, he decided to see what he could do with the actual Kennedy case. This was close to the same time that Stephen King was working on his massive time travel version in 11/22/63 and that book is referred to in this one.

They provide vastly different reading experiences but both books left me with the feeling that the writers had done a lot of work and had succeeded in telling a good story.

 

-30-

 

 

 

 

 

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