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Massad Ayoob on Guns

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Massad Ayoob


Thursday, May 11th, 2017

For months now since I got my early review copy, I’ve been keeping my promised silence, but now at last Stephen Hunter’s latest book “G-Man” is going to officially go on sale May 16.  I can only say – read it!

Regular readers here know I’m a huge fan of Hunter’s work.  He gets the gun stuff right.  He gets the characters right, too.  

In “G-Man,” Hunter creates a character who is a fictional composite of the great manhunters of the early ‘30s who hunts down folks from the Dillinger gang and, in the alternate universe of fiction, ends up facing Baby Face Nelson.

If you’re an NRA member, you’ve seen the current issue of American Rifleman magazine that has Hunter’s superb article on the shootout in Barrington, Illinois in which two federal agents and Nelson killed each other.  Having accessed hitherto unpublished investigative reports on that shooting, Hunter believes Nelson used a Colt Monitor – the civilian version of the BAR, the Browning Automatic Rifle – in that gun battle.  In the novel, however, Nelson is armed for that encounter with the Thompson submachine gun that most historians believed he used in that fight.  My own research, without benefit of the material Stephen accessed, had pointed more toward a .351 Winchester customized by “gunsmith to the outlaws” Hyman Lebman.

Fiction demands the proverbial willing suspension of disbelief.  Bring some of that to the book, and you’ll love it.  Based on the considerable amount that is known of the gunmen involved, Hunter brings them compellingly to life in “G-Man.”

From the reviewer’s side, I was born in 1948. Both my parents, like all of America during the Depression years, had watched the wild ride of all those early ‘30s “celebrity criminals” like Dillinger and Nelson.  I remembered reading about them in my mom’s detective magazines, which were popular in the ‘50s.  Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, and Nelson met their ends from police gunfire in 1934.  Those shootings were about 20 years in the past when I first learned of them as a little boy. For perspective, the FBI shootout in Dade County, Florida in 1986 is now more than 30 years in the past, yet today are still widely cited in discussions of ballistics and tactics. So, you can see I was interested before I opened Stephen Hunter’s latest book.

I can only repeat, Read it!  It’s one of the best from one of my favorite authors, and I expect you’ll enjoy it, too.


  1. Uncle Dave Says:

    Dillinger was from the area I grew up in. One of his hide outs is a couple of miles from my mom’s house. My step dad’s uncle was across the street from one of the banks he robbed. One lady I knew was working in the same bank that day! You would come across lots of people who had encountered him in some form like one couple who he picked up hitch hiking. The Dillinger museum used to be in the next town. It was interesting to see the modified guns. Biggest thing since the Reno Brothers!

  2. Karen Says:

    Sounds exciting! I always love good fiction.. it’s bubble gum for the brain! I was somewhat surprised to learn that Bonnie and Clyde were from Texas and very near where I live. They apparently lived in or around the Lake Dallas area and in Grapevine there is a historic marker on main street about them.
    HUGS! Kare

  3. Two-gun Steve Says:

    Gonna be a great book to read. I have read most or all of Hunter’s books, and learned something useful from each one. I also knew a fellow from the Midwest who, as a young teenager, encountered John Dillinger and Baby-Face Nelson, and girlfriends, at a swimming hole in a rural creek. The gangsters were breaking beer bottles as a diversion. Several kids threw rocks at the outlaws and ran them off. Possibly the kids didn’t yet know exactly who the adults were. Story is that the county sheriff knew that Dillinger and Nelson were there, but wanted no part of apprehending them.

  4. TW Says:

    I have been reading Stephen Hunter since he wrote ‘The Day Before Midnight” in 1989. That also includes all the Swagger novels – both Bob Lee and Earl. I stopped awhile back when I had read everything he produced at that time. Since then I see has written some more books (including Swagger novels). Guess I’ll have to make a list and catch up.

  5. NashobaLosa Says:

    Stephen Hunter is also one of my favorite authors. You are right in that he gets guns and ballistics and right and his characters are all relatively believable. I have had this book pre-ordered from Amazon for months and am very ready to get it.

  6. MichaelJT Says:

    I read the account of the shootout in Barrington, IL. in the online newsfeed from American Rifleman. I suggest everyone read this if you have not already. There are many lessons to be learned from this event. Training and being prepared are primary. One agent was an expert in the use of a Thompson submachine gun, but he was driving the car. His fellow agent was a novice and could only “spray and pray,” which possibly cost both agents their lives.

  7. Vermonter Says:

    Mas, I started reading Hunter about ten years ago, after you recommended him in a column here. He writes good stories, real page turners. As far as getting the gun stuff right, mostly, kinda, sorta. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. In “Point of Impact”, the first Swagger novel, near the end, in the scene where Swagger confronts the two bad guys who kidnapped his girl friend. Hunter has the villains donning “Kevlar Second Chance ballistic vests.”
    “But it’ll stop g-d near anything, including a .308 rifle bullet.” And then in the showdown, Swagger shoots them both, in the chest, thru the vest,… with shotgun slugs? Shotgun slugs have many virtues, but out penetrating a .308 rifle round isn’t one of them. I’m still laughing about that one. That said, his books are great reads.

  8. Two-gun Steve Says:

    Safety sidetrack: doubtful that Dillinger or Nelson ever had an unintentional self-wound, or we’d likely have heard about it. Maybe they avoided or carefully managed appendix-carry? I see some merit in appendix-carry, and imagine that a lot of people besides me use it. I just hope that we don’t make ANY mistakes. The spur-less Ruger SP101, for one, is superior in that pushing down on the flush hammer with the thumb while holstering is comfortable and very strong, plus you could feel if the hammer started upward, which would mean that the trigger was being moved back. The fully-shrouded-hammer revolvers have no such advantage, nor do many semi-autos. I just learned about “The Gadget” behind-the-slide option from a Mas article in another periodical. “The Gadget” could be the most important device for Glock owners ever.

  9. George Lyon Says:

    Love Hunter’s works. My copy arrived last week. Have not started it yet.

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