cover image Hot Springs

Hot Springs

Stephen Hunter. Simon & Schuster, $25 (480pp) ISBN 978-0-684-86360-3

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. Agent, Esther Newberg at ICM. 200,000 first printing; optioned for film by Miramax; 8-city author tour. (July)