Stephen Hunter likes Southern good ol’ boys who know how to hunt and shoot and who have an uncompromising code of honor. In three previous novels, he created the character of Bobby Lee Swagger, a Vietnam vet who is the Baryshnikov of shooting. In Hot Springs, Hunter goes back to the 1940s, when Bobby Lee’s daddy has returned a hero from the Marine island assaults in the Pacific. Earl Swagger, like his son, is good with guns. He’s also tortured by memories of an abusive father and awash in guilt about surviving the war.
Hunter cleverly uses historical characters such as Owney Maddox, the former owner of New York City’s Cotton Club, who has moved on to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Maddox runs a gambling empire being threatened by Swagger and his secret team of fast-shooting lawmen working for the county attorney, who has his eye on the governor’s mansion. Maddox is also threatened by the famed gangster Bugsy Siegel, who is building his own gambling empire in Nevada.
Although Hunter, a Washington Post movie critic, does a good job of evoking the gritty postwar years, this book doesn’t have the tension and unpredictability of his earlier work. But even when he’s not at the top of his game, his writing and plot structure are better than those of most other writers in this genre.
Simon & Schuster