Friday, July 09, 2010

Book Review > Hot Springs by Stephen Hunter

First Sergeant Earl Swagger returns from the war in Europe & the the Pacific, a certified hero, a tough guy; winner of the medal of honor bestoyed on him by President Harry S. Truman.

With his young wife newly pregnant & still living in a military Quonset hut & ready to work at the local mill until he can afford a house in Polk County AK, Earl is recruited to help organize a group of highly trained shooters (including Audy Murphy) by a newly elected & ambitious prosecuting attorney named Becker, the group to be led by an old time FBI agent and fast draw named D.A. Parker. Their aim:  to clean up Hot Springs.

The group, drawn from varied locations & walks of life, train in a secret location with pistols, rifles, automatic weapons, military tactics & discipline. Earl's sergeantry comes in handy here. Up at 5:00am, stripping down weapons, reassembling them in the dark, shooting, shooting & more shooting,  physical exercise, eating & sleeping repeated day after day until, finally they are ready for 'battle'.

Their nemesis: Owney Maddox, the godfather of Hot Springs who runs all the whorehouses, gambling casinos, numbers rackets & the like. All the local politicians are in his pocket as are the judges & police. His enforcers are an ornery clan of ruthless hillbillies. They rule the city unopposed until D.A. Parker, Earl Swagger & the team start taking Owney's underworld kingdom apart piece by piece in one surprise raid after another.

This causes great consternation, not only for Owney Maddox, but also for the godfather's in the New York mob who consider Hot Springs their personal playground, their safe haven, a place where everything is under control, where they can let their hair down, go to shows starring Mickey Rooney, Dina Shore & other stars of the time, to drink, gamble & cavort with whores without fear of being hassled by the cops. 

There are four or five detailed story lines in this book. One of them has Bugsy Seigel visiting Hot Springs with his girlfriend, Virgina Hill, on his way out west to build a casino in a place called Las Vegas, a state where gambling is legal & Meyer Lansky sees the potential of a great investment for mob monies. 

Other story lines involve Earl's wife, Earl's family background, racial integration, loyalty, betrayal and final restitution. 

The book has the richness of extreme detail that all Stephen Hunter books have, interwoven with bits of history, mixed with the brutality of the times. This book is definitely a page turner. My only problem is that I find the dialog in Mr. Hunter's books a bit stilted but after a while you just accept it as you are swept away by the story. 

Other books by & information about the author, Stephen Hunter