If the new millennium is the time of tofu and veggieburgers, then the 1940s would have to be represented by a thick, juicy T-bone steak. Life these days is cast in terms of political correctness, non-violence, and fashion from the thrift store; by contrast, the '40s were for white men only, and you'd better have been packing some heat along with that $400 suit and fedora you were wearing.
Earl Swagger has just had the Medal of Honor bestowed on him by a beaming Harry Truman in the opening scene of Stephen Hunter's new novel, Hot Springs. The war is over, silver jets fly in the sky, and a new invention called television is showing up in department store windows. Why then, is this Marine hero sitting in a White House bathroom pointing an auto-matic pistol to his head?The mental journey this bitter soldier makes to find inner peace is anything but peaceful. He is approached by the young, ambitious, and newly elected prosecuting attorney of Hot Springs, Arkansas. The city is lawless, run by a British born mob boss late of New York City, a hot spring of prostitution, gambling, entertainment, and booze. He's been so successful that a certain Benjamin Bugsy Seigel is checking out his operation in hopes of transplanting the concept to an unknown desert town named Las Vegas. Earl, along with a retired FBI agent and a small group of young law enforcement officers, must take on this well entrenched and very well armed group of gangsters. Elliot Ness had it easy compared to these guys.
An experienced master of the high-testosterone thriller, Hunter does a great job of evoking the time period; the fact that the '40s is a decade synonymous with tough guys on both sides of the law makes it easy for him. You expect his characters to be hard drinking, hard loving men's men.
Stephen Hunter is a skilled storyteller, familiar with his settings, his characters, and his genre. If you like tough thrillers, you'll like Hot Springs.
James Neal Webb has a gray fedora hanging on a hat rack in his living room. He hasn't worn it in years.