The Sniper by Chang Kuo-Li, translated by Roddy Flagg, is quite a different read than I normally gravitate to—but it’s Taiwanese author immediately attracted the attention of this half-Taiwanese reviewer. Described as a “Jason Bourne meets John McClane” thriller, The Sniper has none of the usual emotional weight or slow pacing that define the books I typically review. Instead, The Sniper offers an international adventure that provides the same sense of escapism as your favorite action movies.
The Sniper centers around two protagonists: Wu, a police detective on the verge of retiring, who catches two military deaths that the government pushes to classify as suicides despite evidence that suggests otherwise; and Alex, a professional sniper, trained in Taiwan but now living abroad in Italy, who finds that instead of taking out targets he has suddenly become the target himself. As the two separately work to uncover what’s going on, the reader sees a bigger picture of the conspiracy at play, leading to a thoroughly satisfying crossing of paths at the novel’s climax.
The book reads like a great action movie, filled with suspense, conspiracy, and, of course, plenty of shoot outs. The presumably fictional descriptions of military bureaucracy both in Taiwan and abroad was described with such conviction that I found myself researching both the French Foreign Legion and the state of Taiwanese military affairs to learn about the true history. The quick pacing makes it easy to pick up the book at any time and guarantees non-stop excitement.
Chang Kuo-Li’s language is richly translated by Roddy Flagg ensuring that the reader experiences a visual journey that only further enhances the fast-paced narrative: from sensory descriptions of food (“He ordered a salty soy-milk porridge, a beef pastry, a piece of turnip cake… and a fried dough stick”) to character names (such as “Egghead,” “Fat,” and “Babydoll”) that summarily capture a character’s personality in a nod to the cliche naming conventions of megahit spy movies.
The Sniper is a thoroughly entertaining read. While it didn’t give me the same sense of revelation and inspiration that a lot of my reading does, this book was not intended to. While I know I have already over-emphasized this novel’s likeness to a movie, The Sniper truly is like a blockbuster action movie whereas my typical reads are more like art house cinema– both are absolutely wonderful, but it is important to level-set expectations. With that in mind, I highly recommend this book to thriller fans who are looking for something a little different—the sense of place and the many allusions to Taiwanese culture lend a uniqueness that make this book extra memorable. At 288 pages, this quick read is sure to surprise and delight and would be a great choice for someone who is intimidated by reading fiction.
Thank you to Edelweiss+ by Above the Treeline and Spiderline for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.