Book Review (Historical Handgun) – G-Man (2017, Stephen Hunter)

I’ve been developing a new course for KR Training, Historical Handgun, that teaches the history & evolution of defensive handgun skills.  Part of that work includes reading as many old books on shooting technique as I can find.

Today’s book is a work of fiction, but historical handgun (and submachine gun) shooting technique is an integral part of the story.

G-Man, written by Stephen Hunter, is a “could have happened that way” story about the fictional exploits of the Swagger family, multiple generations of soldiers and lawmen, all gifted shooters.  The first book in the series, Point of Impact, about modern day character Bob Lee Swagger, was made into a movie (Shooter) and a spin off TV series (Shooter, on USA Network).  There are multiple books in the Swagger family universe.  Hunter has done several book signings in Texas, at Houston’s Murder by the Book, and I have several signed Hunter hardbacks in my collection.

G-Man tells the story of Charles Swagger, grandfather to Bob Lee, and his adventures working for the FBI in 1934, chasing down famous machine gun gangsters Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger, and others.  A secondary plot, set in the modern day, involves an aging Bob Lee Swagger and works in several other Swagger family members at various points.

Many of Hunter’s recent books, like this one and the Third Bullet (about the JFK assassination), are carefully researched, with the plot woven around historical incidents.  Hunter takes great care in getting the gun details right, diving deep into technical and historical nuances, working in historical figures from the gun culture.  The reader gets to learn history and gun tech as part of the story, and the story depends on those details for key plot points.

Technique and Training

Firearms training, specifically Swagger’s advocacy of two handed aimed fire, shooting at targets from different angles and positions, snap shooting against a clock, in a memo sent to FBI HQ – in opposition to the crouched hip shooting and one handed bullseye shooting that was actual FBI doctrine of that era – is discussed in detail, as Swagger trains officers working with him to turn them into gunfighters.

Hunter’s gunfight depictions are detailed, often first person point of view, with the mechanics of aiming, firing, and reloading described in depth with the perspective only someone truly familiar with firearms can provide.  (Unlike other action/thriller authors who are not only gun-ignorant but also anti-gun in their politics, such as Lee Child, the author of the Jack Reacher books, for example, Hunter is a true blue member of the gun culture: collector, shooter, historian.)

As appropriate for a book about 1934, the Thompson submachine gun in .45 ACP is used by good and bad men alike, and passage of the National Firearms Act (and its impact on legal sales of full auto guns) is woven into the plot as well.


Anyone interested in reading G-Man should probably start with Point of Impact, to become familiar with Bob Lee Swagger (the print version), and Hot Springs (the first book about Bob Lee’s father Earl Swagger) before reading G-Man, to have more of the history of the Swagger family and content for events in G-Man to appreciate it fully.  G-Man does include enough information that those new to the Swagger family saga can probably follow the story — but for those likely to enjoy G-Man, reading some of the earlier books in the series will be worth it.