The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice

David Hill. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-250-08611-2
Journalist Hill’s fantastic debut blends true crime and Southern history to chronicle the transformation of Hot Springs, Ark., from a spa town into a hotbed of horse racing, prostitution, and illegal gambling between the 1930s and 1960s. Hill tracks the history through the lives of three central figures: Owney Madden, Dane Harris, and Hazel Hill (the author’s grandmother). Madden, an Irish-American gangster and owner of the Cotton Club in Harlem, moved to Hot Springs in 1935 to avoid enemies he’d made in the Manhattan underworld. He teamed with local hustlers, including bootlegger Harris, to turn the town’s existing vice district into a strip of high-end resorts that drew professional athletes and film stars. Harris and Madden also opened the Vapors, the grandest of the city’s resorts, where Hazel Hill worked as a “shill player,” betting with house money “to keep the tourists interested and the games going,” while struggling to raise three children on her own after leaving their abusive, alcoholic father. Expertly interweaving family memoir, Arkansas politics, and Mafia lore, Hill packs the story full of colorful characters and hair-raising events. This novelistic history hits the jackpot. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (July)
Reviewed on : 04/06/2020
Release date: 07/07/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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