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4.3 out of 5 stars
10
4.3 out of 5 stars


HALL OF FAMEon 22 August 2003
PALE HORSE COMING is inspired by the New Testament verse:
"Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him." Author Stephen Hunter must have thought the passage way cool because he milks it for all it's worth.
Earl Swagger, the novel's hero, is a sergeant in the Arkansas state police and a Marine veteran of the Pacific war against the Japanese. It's now 1961, and Earl takes time off from his day job to investigate the disappearance of a lawyer pal who's traveled on legal business to the Thebes State Penal Farm (Colored), a Mississippi prison for Negroes cut-off from the rest of the world in the swamps of the state's southeast corner. What Swagger discovers is a hell-hole of officially sanctioned viciousness that makes Stalin's gulags seem tame by comparison. As a meddling outsider, Earl is detained there himself and almost loses his life and sanity. After finally escaping, he returns to exact righteous vengeance.
The first half of PALE HORSE COMING is perhaps its best. It's the survival story of Earl amidst the horrors of Thebes, not the least of which is the psychopathic overseer, the albino Bigboy, who enjoys torturing prisoners to death with a bullwhip. To enhance the dramatic effect of Swagger's fight for his life, the Thebes facility is perhaps overembellished. Wrought in iron over its main gate are the words, "Work Will Set You Free." Haven't we seen that before, as in "Arbeit Macht Frei", associated with other camps of infamy? Somehow.
The book's second half strains credulity. The author apparently has a love of the Old West as he has Earl returning to Thebes with a posse of retired gunslingers - one of whom is in his eighties - to expunge the place from the map. Swagger includes in his trigger-happy band a character named Audie Ryan, America's most decorated WWII soldier and now a movie star, who's obviously modeled on the real-life Audie Murphy. Oh, puhleeze! And it doesn't help that the U.S. government is involved with Thebes in the obligatory Sinister Secret Project - your tax dollars at work.
Had I thought that Hunter wrote the ending tongue-in-cheek as a parody, I might have been more forgiving. However, I suspect he was serious, and the result is too clever by half. As it is, I'm awarding four stars because it remains a gripping and entertaining read. And that's why I spend good money for a cheap thriller, right?
In the film PALE RIDER, which reworks the earlier SHANE with a stronger "Death rides a pale horse" theme, Clint Eastwood's Man-With-No-Name character wipes out the Bad Guys all by himself. For me, the Lone Hero has always held more appeal.
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on 1 June 2002
You think Camp X-Ray is tough, wait till you read about Thebes. Southern lawyer Sam Vincent goes into the backwoods on a simple legal matter and ends up in a world of trouble. Earl Swagger comes to his rescue, and unearths a conspiracy of evil; and it takes a man of Earl Swagger's stature and ability to deal with it. Another great page-turner from Stephen Hunter.
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on 14 May 2003
I bought this latest Stephen Hunter last week and read the entire book from cover to cover in a day. Luckily I had the day off work but everything else was put aside while I finished it.
Its one of the most exciting, terrifying thrillers ive read in a good few years - at some parts my heart was literally racing, not knowing what would happen next. I wont bother with a long review so just do yourself a big favour and buy it!
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on 29 October 2001
This is, quite simply, a tremendous thriller. The novels by Stephen Hunter featuring Earl Swagger and his son Bob Lee are the most exciting being written today. Their publication is an event. Earl and Bob Lee have a solidity and total integrity that inspires. You would go through any door, no matter what might lie behind it, with one of them behind you. You feel deeply for Earl's suffering at the hands of evil in the centre part of this novel, but you are carried along in the full knowledge that Earl is going to survive all the odds and come back, and you feel sorry for those who torment him and don't know yet that the pale horse will come and what the consequences for them will be. This novel is better than "Hot Springs", its predecessor, and very well in the same top drawer class as "Dirty White Boys" and the magnificent "Time to Hunt", both tour de forces by Stephen Hunter. Those who have yet to read "Pale Horse Coming" have a treat in store.
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on 9 October 2001
By 1951 Thebes, Mississippi is a ghost town converted to a penal colony for Negro criminals. Once in you never leave as the only egress is by boat in a casket. The warden and guards run a tight operation making life miserable for the prisoners because the standard operating norm is whipping and torture. The men in charge use all sorts of diabolical devices to keep the prisoners in line and cowed.

Attorney Sam Vincent travels to Thebes to meet a client, but is illegally detained by the law enforcement officials running the facility. Earl Swagger knows Sam is inside Thebes and sets out to free his friend. Earl frees Sam, but is caught instead. Big Boy, who runs the prison, periodically tortures Earl, who with a bit of luck escapes vowing to return to burn this little corner of hell to the ground.

PALE HORSE COMING is a juicy thriller that shows how little freedom blacks had in the 1951 south. The novel shocks, excites, and enthralls the audience. The plot serves as a testament to the unknown heroes fighting injustice to make things right for everyone. Stephen Hunter is a fantastic writer who knows how to entertain and educate his fans.

Harriet Klausner
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on 27 January 2008
This is the ultimate thriller. Great fun and addictive. It's satire but who cares, just enjoy it.
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on 29 October 2011
After reading all the Bob Lee Swagger books I moved on to the Earl Swagger ones and they are equally as good. This is just a briliant book. So well written and grips the reader from start to finish. Tremendous.
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on 28 March 2015
My favourite author, and this was the first of his I read some time go. This time purchased for a friendf who also enjoyed it.
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on 29 October 2016
ok I suppose?
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on 28 April 2011
This book is complete drivel from start to finish. It's a huge book but harly anything happens. In the end the climax is so predictable there's hardly any point going through the formality of reading it. Do you self a favour: don't bother and read something else.
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