In Stephen Hunter’s The Third Bullet: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel, master sniper Bob Lee Swagger investigates a conspiracy behind the JFK assassination.
How did your childhood affect your writing?
I grew up in the suburbs among highly educated people, in a house crammed with books. It was a culture rich in ideas, stimulation, entertainment, and mental activity, all helpful to the nurture of an imaginative child who wanted from an early age to be a writer. On the other hand, I was achingly aware of the vast distance between the ideal and the real: my father was an abusive alcoholic with tendencies toward violence and psychological destruction of his children. Having a better and more productive life than my monster father has been my most significant accomplishment.
What led you to look into the Kennedy assassination?
I felt very strongly that too many people who knew too little had commented too much. The result was a hurricane of chaos and misinformation. Bullets are heavily engineered, they are not arbitrary. The true mystery of the JFK assassination isn’t “How could the bullet go through two people with only slight damage?” but “Why did the third bullet explode?” That one acted completely atypically for its design and the velocity at which it was fired. This was missed by both the Warren Commission and all the skeptics. So I had a great deal of enthusiasm for applying a magnifying glass of ballistic knowledge to material which had not been so treated. In that respect, I think The Third Bullet offers a series of unique insights that nobody else has come up with.
What was the hardest part of the writing?
Actually, nothing was hard. It was a book that came to me almost intact, and I felt more like a recording secretary than an author. Some of the book is a memoir of a CIA executive, and I found his voice right away and really enjoyed it. In fact, one of my problems was shutting him up.
Did the official inquiries not have the kind of ballistics expertise that you possess?
I’m not an expert or a trained ballistician. But it is a subject I’ve studied intently for 50 years, so I may know a thing or two. In my opinion, the JFK investigation was poorly handled. I was surprised at how limited and unhelpful the FBI “expert” was. He had no feel for the use of telescopic sights, particularly on a moving target, for the importance of the equipment in shooting through such sights, for the inherent difficulties of even finding a target through a ¾-inch diameter scope that was moving at a certain awkward angle away from the shooter, for even the way a scope worked and could be tested. It’s pretty disgraceful, really.