Blue Rider Press/ Penguin Random House, $27.00, 443 pages, ISBN 978-0-399-57460-3
The Great Depression of the 1930s was a time of unrelenting misery, hardship and economic deprivation. It was an era that left indelible scars upon all who lived through it, for who could forget the massive unemployment, the endless bread lines, or the dislocation and migration of tens of thousands of impoverished farmers who’d been forced off their land by the drought that spawned the dust bowl, and the aggressive foreclosures by banks throughout the south, midwest and Texas. The bottom of the Depression—as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average—occurred in the summer of 1932, and it was during the depths of that Depression that gangs of outlaws with submachine guns began roaming the countryside, robbing banks and killing lawmen all over the midwest. The violence and anarchy reached a crescendo in 1934, when the U.S. Division of Investigation, later called the F.B.I., hunted down and killed or captured the most notorious and violent outlaws: those designated as ‘Public Enemies,’ or ‘most-wanted: gangsters like John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie Parker and her cohort, Clyde Barrow, and the utterly unpredictable, savage, and the most cold-blooded killer of them all . . . a psychopath named Lester Gillis . . . known to all the world as Baby Face Nelson. Those are the true historical facts. They took place during the Great Depression in the United States.
Now, in his newest novel, G-Man, best-selling author Stephen Hunter melds all those facts into a modern-day mystery for Bob Lee Swagger to solve. Swagger, a Vietnam-era U.S. Marine sniper and firearms expert, has finally sold his family’s old homestead in Arkansas. When clearing out the property, he discovers a metal strongbox containing a Division of Investigation badge, a modified government issue 1911-A Colt .45 caliber automatic pistol, a crudely drawn treasure map, a mint-condition 1934 series $1000 bill and a curious looking precision machined part for an unknown device of some kind. Swagger knows that the box must have been hidden by his grandfather Charles, the Sheriff in Polk County Arkansas and a hero in World War I. Charles, a gunfighter in his own right, is a mystery to Bob Lee, whose own father refused to talk about the older lawman, who had a hint of scandal about him. It’s unclear if he was ever a federal law officer and Bob Lee, sets off to find the truth about his grandfather. But, as his investigation digs deeper, it becomes apparent he’s being shadowed by someone who wants the past left alone. Thereafter, the novel alternates between the present day search for the truth, and the momentous events of 1934, as Charles Swagger’s story is reveled . . . leading to the amazing climax and unexpected conclusion of this action-packed adventure yarn. History comes alive as Mr. Hunter skillfully weaves past and present together into a thriller that’s chock-full of heroes and villains in one of this summers most enjoyable reads!