Tue 1 Aug 2006
In keeping with my recent book review concept (see my review of the Korean War book), this is a review for Marine Sniper: 93 Confirmed Kills by Charles Henderson, about the exploits of marine sniper Carlos Hathcock.
The book was a pretty quick read. It was the size of a standard fiction western or romance paperback, and it read about as quickly. I think it was slightly under 300 pages.
The story follows Hathcock’s career as he becomes a sniper in Vietnam, with several flashbacks to earlier times in his life. It’s a somewhat entertaining story, but most of the enjoyment comes from realizing that it is nonfiction. If you didn’t know better you’d assume it was normal fiction. But, in this case it really happened, and the guy they are talking about is really real.
On the negative side, I wouldn’t mind it being a little less fictiony. I think
Henderson tried too hard to make it read like a fiction novel. There are numerous sections of dialog in the book, and they just don’t come across as being genuine. He says in the preface that the dialog sections among the Viet Cong and other enemies are fictionalized (since no one was there to record them) but even the exchanges between Hathcock and friends just don’t come across as being authentic. They often read as though one person is defining terms and terminology to another, when such exchanges would rarely take place in real life.
Because of this fiction-type of storyline, you never really get bogged down when reading the book. It flows from the first page to the last page, although the flashback sequences are sometimes hard to identify. You’ll be reading along and you kinda have to watch carefully to realize that you are now reading about an earlier event in Hathcock’s life. This is relatively minor, but it is something to be aware of.
As with many books describing history in geographic locations that us Americans know little or nothing about, a map would have been helpful. A book like this doesn’t really need more than one map, probably. But that would have been nice to have simply as a reference.
Concerning Hathcock’s illness. It doesn’t get hardly any treatment in the book until
the end, except for one section about his body shaking and feeling bad in the middle of the book. You get the impression that this event will be the beginning of the end and you’ll hear more and more about it, but that doesn’t transpire. He has this event, you read words about it being an ominous foreshadowing of things to come, and then you don’t hear any more about it until Hathcock is out of Vietnam for several years.
Is the book recommended? Sure. It’ won’t take you more than a few hours. If you don’t know of Carlos Hathcock, or don’t know much about him, you should definitely read it. It’s a brief introduction to a truly amazing man. His exploits have been repeated ad naseum, and they have been tweaked and twisted into movie segments and sequences that you’ll definitely recognize as you read the book. The Sniper is the most feared weapon on the battlefield. And Hathcock was definitely the most feared sniper of them all.