Digger

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As a soldier in Vietnam, John Fortunato fought in the crushing darkness of the tunnels of Cu Chi, from which the Vietcong launched their deadliest operations. Back home in Elk River, Illinois, he secretly re-created those deadly tunnels. Partly a memorial, partly a kind of exorcism, they now lie hidden beneath the town's peaceful streets.

But that peace shatters when Fortunato witnesses the brutal sidewalk shooting of an innocent victim. The vicious crime is only the first ...

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Overview

As a soldier in Vietnam, John Fortunato fought in the crushing darkness of the tunnels of Cu Chi, from which the Vietcong launched their deadliest operations. Back home in Elk River, Illinois, he secretly re-created those deadly tunnels. Partly a memorial, partly a kind of exorcism, they now lie hidden beneath the town's peaceful streets.

But that peace shatters when Fortunato witnesses the brutal sidewalk shooting of an innocent victim. The vicious crime is only the first assault by a man who will wage a full-scale battle to control Elk River. And on the front line is John Fortunato, whose secret tunnels will provide the battleground for his own war. As his enemy is about to learn, when this veteran warrior goes down, he's just beginning to fight.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rambo meets The Great Escape."
--Los Angeles Times

"Starts in high gear and doesn't slow down."
--The Washington Post

"A deftly mapped thriller."
--People

"Engrossing...nonstop action and original plot...rapid-fire suspense."
--Phillip Margolin, New York Times bestselling author of The Burning Man

"A well-knit, multilayered story...extremely fast [and] entertaining."
--The Denver Post

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
While walking through the streets of Elk River, Ill., Vietnam vet John Fortunato happens to photograph a shooting and flees the scene by descending into a secret tunnel. In this fast-moving thriller, Flynn The Concrete Inquisition ingeniously grafts a Vietnam combat motif onto a small-town union war. In a bizarre tribute to the harrowing experience of fighting the Vietcong in their famous tunnel strongholds, Fortunato and two other vets, upon their return home, have dug a whole system of tunnels beneath Elk River. A company town in the grip of a union strike, Elk River rapidly becomes a war zone. When Fortunato's cousin Tommy Boyle, local head of the union, is killed, suspicion falls variously on company owner Anthony Hunt, his hired thug, a police deputy and the national head of the union. Fortunato becomes Hunt's next target, along with beautiful union lawyer Jill Baxter. Unfortunately, as things spin out of control in Elk River, Flynn litters his plot with a growing pile of bodies and events. Fortunato's paranormal giftshe can see in the dark, sense danger and is visited by those he loves at the moment of their deathsare a ludicrous distraction. Not content with a climactic replay of the Vietnam war among Fortunato, his allies and an ex-Vietcong tunnel fighter imported by Hunt, Flynn throws in a flood as well. By then, however, not even that deluge can wash away the disappointing taste left by this once-promising thriller. Aug.
Library Journal
John Fortunato is a Vietnam vet who has made a good life as a photographer in Elk River, Illinois. When a corporate raider unexpectedly takes over the local industry and tries to break the union, Fortunato's friend, the union president, is murdered. Strikes and scabs follow, bitterly dividing the town. Back in Vietnam, Fortunato had been a tunnel rat, one of the demented soldiers who followed Viet Cong down into their tunnel labyrinths. As his personal atonement he and two similarly afflicted friends have been secretly digging tunnels throughout Elk River. Soon a whole cast of odd characters is scuttling through the tunnels. This bizarre hodgepodge of a first novel is full of Gothic elements: mysteries, visitations from the dead, explosions and miraculous escapes, a coming-of-age story, and a love interest. The ending descends into goofiness, but as a whole this entertainment is well worth tackling. The felicitous style and great pacing make up for lapses in credibility. Libraries looking for lengthy but nontaxing reads could do worse.Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Kirkus Reviews
Flynn's hardcover debut is an extravagant but oddly appealing blue-collar opera: amid constant touches of magic realism and in- your-face symbols, Vietnam vets join forces with union men and women to battle a corrupt industrialist.

After serving a tough tour of duty in Vietnam, John Fortunato returns home to Elk River to establish himself as a photographer. Underneath this small southern Illinois town, the obsessed ex-NCO (with a little help from a few military friends) duplicates the dark tunnels in which he and fellow soldiers did battle with the Viet Cong around Cu Chi. More than two decades after the tunnels are dug, the river city becomes a house divided against itself as Anthony Tiburon Hunt, the unscrupulous owner of Pentronics Systems (the area's largest employer), precipitates a strike by his workers. Peaceable John casts his lot with labor when the local's president is gunned down following a confrontation between pickets and plant management. Although Jill Baxter (the comely Chicago lawyer imported to keep the union within the law during the work stoppage) tries to keep a lid on, the body count escalates as Hunt brings in scabs, hit men, and Vietnamese hoodlums from the West Coast. While reluctant to go to war again, John (now romantically involved with Jill) frequently takes to his subterranean labyrinth, where he gathers intelligence on the nefarious Hunt. All conflicts come to a violent resolution at the height of a mighty storm that raises the region's waterways to flood-stage as John and some of his buddies clash with Hunt's Vietnamese thugs in the tunnels under the town. John dies while ensuring Jill's escape from a watery burrow, and she makes it back to the surface to restore order in the troubled township and keep his memory ever green.

Shamelessly melodramatic entertainment, though with a crude narrative power that will make most readers keep turning the pages.

David Pitt
Photographer John Fortunato. . . a soldier who traded his gun for a camera but has never stopped shooting, is a unique character. There have been a lot of novels about tortured Vietnam vets. Thankfully, Flynn manages to avoid the cliches that many other writers run into headlong. Digger is sure-footed, suspenseful, and, in its breathless final moments, unexpectedly heartbreaking.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553578096
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 4.17 (w) x 6.85 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Flynn was born in Chicago and raised in the shadow of Wrigley Field. He was one of three White Sox fans in the neighborhood, swimming against the tide of the Cubs faithful. Such adversity would later serve him well as he embarked on a career in writing. His education was both parochial and secular, including, St. Mary of the Lake School, Francis W. Parker School, Loyola University and Northeastern Illinois University. Mr. Flynn's novels have been published by Signet Books, Bantam Books, Variance Publishing and his own imprint Stray Dog Press, Inc. Booklist said, "...Flynn is an excellent storyteller."
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The church was dark until John Fortunato struck the match.  The point of light revealed rows of votive candles in red glass sleeves.  John touched the  match to a wick.  

"God keep you, Jamie Doolan," he murmured.

He blew out the match and watched its wisp of blue smoke curl upward.

The vast blackness of the church seemed to swallow the flicker of light from  the candle.  But as a cloud passed away from the moon, the stained-glass figure of a resurrected Christ was illuminated high above him.

John had intended to light the candle and go.  Now, cradling the camera he'd  brought with him, he took a seat in a pew and regarded the image of the risen  Savior.  He never tired of looking at it.  The mosaic of leaded glass was  what he held on to: his image of God.

Of redemption.

His grandfather, Michelangelo Fortunato, had created the window.  Had built  the Church of the Resurrection.  Then the immigrant artisan had gone on to  construct a fair part of the town of Elk River around the limestone church.

John had likewise left his mark--not upon the town, where all could see, but  somewhere none would ever know.  

John stepped out of the church.

Another cloud bank rolled in, drawing a curtain across the moon.  The loss of  its light didn't bother him.  Darkness was an old friend.  But he felt a sudden chill, a sense of menace, in this night that made his heart beat  faster.  To his surprise, long-dormant combat instincts came bristling back,  and he wished he had his M-16 in his hands again instead of the Nikon around  his neck.

John knew his hometown as well as he knew the lines in his face and the scars  on his soul, and every instinct he had told him that something was very wrong  that Sunday night.

He began to walk east from the church.  He stayed on the park side of  Riverfront Drive.  The expanse of Riverfront Park on his right was dark and  peaceful: a chorus of cicadas provided the respiratory buzz of a landscape at  rest.

But to his left, toward town, something was definitely wrong.  A predator was  waiting out there .  .  .  waiting to spring.  As he drew even with Lincoln  Avenue, the town's main commercial street, John stepped behind the statue of  the Great Emancipator that dominated the park.

From behind its pedestal, he let his eyes follow Lincoln's bronze gaze out  over the sleeping town.  He didn't see a soul on the street, but still his  uneasiness grew.

In any normal time, he would have felt foolish, peeking out from shelter as  if he expected to be attacked.  Elk River, Illinois, was Heartland America,  the kind of picture-postcard small town where you could walk the streets at  night and not be afraid.

Or it had been until just last week.

Now, the town was entering the second week of a strike against its major employer, Pentronics Systems.  Over 3,500 workers, 95 percent of the  company's workforce and a fifth of Elk River's population, were off the job  and on the picket line.  Negotiations had broken off the first day of the  walkout and showed no signs of resuming.  If anything, the dispute promised  to become uglier.  The possibility of violence was on everyone's mind, had  people on edge, watching their backs.

Staying in the shadows, John continued on to the next street, Washington,  then turned north, quickly crossing Riverfront Drive.  His destination was  the storefront office of the Brotherhood of Manufacturing Workers, Local 274,  at the corner of Washington and First, and the closer John came to the union  office, the stronger his feeling of foreboding became.

The Pentronics walkout was being led by Tommy Boyle, the president of Local  274 and John's closest relative.  John was on his way to talk with Tommy about creating a photographic record of the strike.  Even though it was late,  he knew Tommy would still be on the job.

He was edging up to the corner of Washington and First when he heard a voice  curse.

"Fuck." A male voice.  Angry.  Maybe anxious, too.

John stopped dead in his tracks.

He heard a door being rattled forcefully, and another curse.  Then soft  footsteps moved off to the west along First Street.  John stole a look around  the corner.

A large man dressed in dark clothes was moving toward Lincoln Avenue. The  man walked swiftly and silently, turning his head from side to side as if  looking to see if he was being followed.  John was sure that the man had been  trying to get into the darkened office of Local 274, but he didn't know why.   Or which side he was on.

John ducked back around the corner just before the man turned to look behind  him.

Tommy would want to know what he'd seen, John knew.  So he turned and made  his way back toward Riverfront Drive.  Since Tommy wasn't at the deserted  union office, John thought he'd have to be with his picketers on the line  outside Pentronics Systems.

The plant was a half mile west of the Church of the Resurrection.  He'd have  to retrace his steps.  But just as he'd turned onto Riverfront, John heard  the sudden mechanical roar of an engine.  He knew it was a car, but the image  that immediately came to mind was of a Cobra attack helicopter coming in for  a strafing run.

Ahead of him, the man he'd seen walking away from Local 274 came running out  of Lincoln Avenue, turned the corner onto Riverfront, and headed straight for  John.  Just behind the man, like some dark, snarling monster torn from a nightmare, a lights-out black sedan raced out of the soft April night.

John did the only thing he could.  He flicked on his flash unit and its  battery pack, and heard the capactitator whine as it powered up the unit.  He  pulled off his lens cap, and raised his motor-driven Nikon to his eye.

The car overtook the runner with predatory ease, veering up onto the sidewalk  to block his path.  The runner desperately reversed his direction, dashing  back the way he'd come.  The car slammed to a stop with an assist from the  brick wall of Riverman Savings.  Before it stopped rocking, the back doors  flew open and two hulks pounded after the runner.

No one had yet noticed John.  If he went now, he could slip away unseen.   Except he'd never be able to explain flaking out to Doolan.

He tripped the shutter.  To his ear, the Nikon on full automatic screamed as  it drove the 1000 ASA film through the camera.  A fusillade of searing white  light erupted from his flash unit.  He caught one of the hulks cutting the  chase short with a silenced handgun.  The weapon's noiseless flash left the  runner writhing on the ground.

John snapped frame after frame, wondering if he'd capture the moment when a  man was murdered.  A movement at the edge of his lens drew his attention back  to the black sedan.

The front window on the passenger side was sliding down, and the first  thing--the only thing--John saw was the barrel of the gun pointed at him.  He  aimed the Nikon at the car, keeping the camera stationary while he ducked  down and to the left.  His flash unit popped off another series of electronic  firecrackers.

The idea was to draw the gunfire to the light and blind the shooter at the  same time.

Some idea.  The SOB shot the strobe unit off his camera.  The Nikon spun from  John's grip, but the strap looped around his arm and he pinned it at his elbow.

The next two shots missed.  Badly.  The shooter had caught the glare  from the strobe.  John sprinted across the street toward Riverfront Park.   Behind him, he heard heavy footsteps followed seconds later by car doors slamming, the snarl of an engine, and screeching tires.

Now, he'd become the runner.

But he was into the trees--and the sheltering darkness--before the car could  catch him.  He heard footsteps crashing through the bushes behind him, and  shots were fired blindly, some of them coming chillingly close.

He needed a hole in the ground, and he had one.  He raced down a path to a  shadowy stand of trees and shrubs where he bent down.  Even in the dark his  fingers quickly found the release that secured the camouflaged lid to the  tunnel entrance.  He lifted it, slithered into the hole he'd dug years  before, and lowered the lid from below.

He was safe--as long as his tunnels stayed secret.

Chapter Two

The sniper lit up Davey Morowski.

One minute poor little Mo was walking point, and the next you could see  daylight through him.  Seemed he never should've been able to stand up to so  many rounds for so long.  That fucking machine gun just kept hammering him,  and Mo just stayed on his feet, jerking and dancing backward.  Like he could  bow away from death.

Platoon Sergeant Jamie Doolan didn't know why the sniper had been dumb enough  to light up the point man instead of waiting for more of the squad to come  into view.  He didn't know why the sniper stayed with Mo so long when he had  to be dead after the first few rounds, even if he was still upright. Doolan  didn't know and he didn't care.  Stupid or just plain green, the fucking dink  had given the other seven men in the squad, all bunched up behind Doolan like  dumbasses, time to dive into a gully and save themselves.

"Doolan, hey, Doolan," Sp4 Timothy Washington whispered, "what's this crazy  fuckin' cherry doin'?"

Doolan didn't take his eyes off the tree line.  He was looking for the  machine gun that had just smoked poor Mo, and Washington was asking him  stupid questions.  Shit, there were three cherries in First Squad--that's why  he was humpin' with them--but he didn't have time to baby-sit them now.

But Washington wouldn't give up.

"Look at 'im, man."

"Who, goddamnit?"

"Johnny Fortune."

Fortunato? Of the three cherries, he was the last one Doolan figured would  flake out.  He turned to look and was surprised to see Fortunato right next  to him, right between him and Washington.

He was sitting there with his back against the gully wall and his eyes  closed.  Peaceful.  Like he was taking a nap, didn't have a fucking care in  the world.  All the others were looking around everywhere, eyes bugging out,  heads jerking back and forth, expecting to get their shit scattered any  second now.  And Johnny Fortune was taking a snooze.  Jamie Doolan was  dumbfounded.

He didn't see any blood on Fortunato, hadn't thought the sniper had hit  anyone except Mo.  Still, he asked.

"You hit?"

"He freakin' out, that's what," Washington said.

Johnny Fortune didn't open his eyes, didn't say a word.  He just pointed, and  that's when Doolan saw it: a trip wire running through the grass.  Seven guys  had dived into the gully and they'd been out-the-ass lucky enough not to trigger it.  The sniper hadn't been dumb.  He'd just thought he'd explode  their asses for them.

"Don't move," Doolan hissed down the line to his men.  "Look around for trip  wires and mines.  Just point if you see anything."

Elston and Burnside pointed.  More booby traps.  Fuck!  Diving into these  weeds, this gully, not setting anything off, they'd been luckier than a  busload of gimps getting cured at Lourdes.

Washington was still staring at Johnny Fortune.

"You jist happen to notice that wire while your ass was divin' for cover?" he  asked.  "How the fuck you know that thing was there?"

Doolan stuck to the point.

"Better question is how the fuck do we get outta here? We call for air  support to blast that sniper, who knows what shit Charlie pulls on us while  we're waitin'?" A small shudder ran through him.  "Got no fuckin' choice on  this one.  Tim, you watch the trees for the muzzle flash.  I'm gonna shag my  ass back onto the path--for just a second.  Try to get that fuckin' dink before--"

Fortunato silenced Doolan by placing his index finger to his lips. Neither  Doolan nor Washington could believe it.  They gaped at him.  Fuckin' cherry,  still sitting there with his eyes closed, looking more unconscious than ever,  telling them to shut the fuck up.

Like he shouldn't be disturbed.

Then before they could say a word Johnny Fortune popped up, whirled, fired  the clip from his M-16 into the tree line, and was back in the gully before  they heard the sniper's shriek.

"Fuck me," Washington murmured, "he dinged the dink."

Doolan stared at Fortunato.  The cherry was only now opening his eyes. The  platoon sergeant was sure he'd fired with his eyes closed.  Then Johnny  Fortune popped up again and was out of the gully and sprinting for the tree  line.

When Doolan caught up with him he was taking off his goddamn pants. Fuckin'  guy even shushed him again before he could get the first word out.  Then he  pointed to a hole in the ground that Doolan hadn't even noticed, he was so  charged up.

The dink who'd gone down it hadn't had the time to pull the trapdoor closed.

Well, maybe he hadn't been able to; there was an awful lot of blood leading  down into that hole.  By now, Washington had crept up and, to Doolan's  surprise, was giving Johnny his 16.  Fortunato had already put his own rifle  down one of the legs of the pants he'd removed.  He put Washington's down the  other.  Then he tied his boots to the pant legs.

He'd made a decoy.  Before he lowered it into the hole, Fortunato gestured to  Doolan with cocked fingers that he should be ready to shoot.

Then he lowered the decoy into the hole in the ground.  No sooner had the  empty boots touched bottom than out popped a blood-drenched dink who slashed  the crotch out of Johnny's empty pants with a bayonet.

It was hard to say who was more surprised, the dink or Jamie Doolan. They  just gaped at each other.

"Fire, fuckhead!" Fortunato yelled.

So Doolan did.

Goddamn Johnny Fortune had done it again.  He'd known the dink was waiting  there ready to ambush the first grunt dumb enough to jump into that hole.   He'd known it without any way of knowing.  After he'd somehow been able to  shoot the guy with his fuckin' eyes closed.

Platoon Sergeant Doolan intended to get some answers to this shit right  goddamn now.

But, again, Johnny Fortune was too fast for him.  He yanked the dink's body  out of the hole, grabbed a .45 from Washington, and disappeared into the tunnel.

Doolan looked at the small, inky-black hole that had just eaten Johnny  Fortune alive, olive drab underwear and all.  It made him shudder.

Which was too fucking bad, because Doolan's pride wasn't going to let him do  anything but follow Johnny Fortune right inside.

Chapter Three

The striking worker spat.

"Look at that prick up there." The man on the picket line outside the  Pentronics Systems plant shook his head sourly.  "Anthony Tiburon Hunt. Mr.  High-and-Mighty.  Makes me wanna puke."

Tommy Boyle, president of Local 274, Brotherhood of Manufacturing Workers,  said nothing.  He was already looking at the figure silhouetted against a  window on the top floor of the executive office building.

"Lookin' down on us like ants he can't wait to step on," said another  picketer.

"Bastard," a third added succinctly.

Tommy Boyle leaned his tall, hard frame against the front of his car and thought what a wonderful target Hunt made all backlit like that up there in  his window.  You couldn't miss him.  Any marine who'd ever made it through

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 7, 2011

    A memorable read

    Read this book many years ago. It was really good then, and although I seldom reread books, decided to see if I would still like it. YEP, it is as good as I remembered. Now i am happy to find that there are several more by the same author on my nook. Hope you enjoy this book as much as both i and my spouse did.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 5, 2011

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