The undisputed master of the tough thriller, New York Times bestselling author Stephen Hunter delivers a masterpiece of crime fiction set in 1940s Arkansas, where law and corruption ricochet like slugs from a .45 automatic.
Earl Swagger is tough as hell. But even tough guys have their secrets. Plagued by the memory of his abusive father, apprehensive about his own impending parenthood, Earl is a decorated ex-Marine of absolute integrity -- and overwhelming melancholy. Now he's about to face his biggest, bloodiest challenge yet.
It is the summer of 1946, organized crime's garish golden age, when American justice seems to have gone to seed for good. Nowhere is this more true than in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the reigning capital of corruption. When the district attorney vows to bring down the mob, Earl is recruited to run the show. As casino raids erupt into nerve-shattering combat amid screaming prostitutes and fleeing johns, the body count mounts -- along with the suspense.
Furnished with brilliant period detail and a dynamo of a lead character, this big, brawny crime drama recountsDin highly fictionalized formDthe true story of the backlash against corruption and decadence in Hot Springs, Ark., during the years following WWII. Bobby Lee Swagger, the Vietnam vet hero of three of Hunter's previous books (most recently, Time to Hunt), is here supplanted as protagonist by his father. Earl Swagger, a fierce, highly decorated WWII Pacific theater warrior, is a man haunted by the horrors of war, as well as by the abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of his brutal father. Recruited by the district attorney in Hot Springs to help break the hold of mob boss Owney Maddox on the city, Earl, assisted by his team of "Jayhawkers," raids several casinos and whorehouses. He is unaware that he's being betrayed by elements within his unit and by outside forces he thought were on his side. Meanwhile, Earl's personal life is in tattersDhis wife is suffering through a perilous pregnancy and he can barely go a minute without mulling over his wartime sins. And he can't stop thinking back on life with his cruel, enigmatic father, his drunken mother, and his helpless younger brother, who committed suicide at 15 to escape it all. Hunter, a film critic for the Washington Post, has written a powerful, sweeping story, one that effectively deals with multiple themes: the anguish of war vets, deep-seated racism, and fairness and duty in personal and professional life. His prose, including some wonderful stretches of backwoods dialect and gritty scenes of physical and emotional turmoil, has that rare visual quality that takes the action off the page and into the mind.