Hot Springs (Earl Swagger Series #1)

( 21 )

Overview

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 ...

See more details below
Paperback (Mass Market Paperback - Simon & Schuster)
$9.99
BN.com price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (38) from $2.73   
  • New (12) from $4.41   
  • Used (26) from $2.73   
Hot Springs (Earl Swagger Series #1)

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$9.99
BN.com price
Marketplace
BN.com

All Available Formats & Editions

Overview

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.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Our Review
Stephen Hunter is the reigning master of the hard-edged, ultraviolent thriller. The best of his novels -- which, to my mind, include Point of Impact, Dirty White Boys, and The Day Before Midnight -- combine technical expertise, headlong narrative momentum, and an extraordinary sense of detail, which create indelible portraits of larger-than-life men who live -- and often die -- by the gun.

Hunter's latest, Hot Springs, is a period thriller set in the postwar boom town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, a corrupt, wide-open city known for the medicinal effects of its eponymous springs, and for its free and easy tolerance of gambling, prostitution, and illicit pleasures of every sort. The narrative opens in 1946 when Fred C. Becker, a newly elected prosecuting attorney, inaugurates a much-publicized crusade to clean up the city. Becker, a sleazy opportunist with grandiose ambitions, hires two highly qualified professionals to supervise his crusade. One is D. A. Parker, a legendary former FBI agent who once shot it out with Baby Face Nelson and the Barker Gang. The other is former Marine Master Sergeant Earl Swagger, a Medal of Honor winner whose tragic history forms the centerpiece of Black Light and who will go on to father Hunter's most enduring fictional creation: Bob Lee Swagger, known to readers of Point of Impact as Bob the Nailer.

Together, Earl and Parker assemble and train an elite cadre of volunteers -- youthful law officers from various parts of the country. Once out of "boot camp" -- an intensive period of training in weaponry and military assault tactics -- the volunteers, led by Earl, launch a series of increasingly violent raids against the gambling establishments of Owney Maddox, a former New York mobster who has transformed Hot Springs into his own private fiefdom. The conflict between Earl Swagger's raiders -- latter-day embodiments of the Jayhawkers of post-Civil War Kansas -- and Maddox, whose troops include a savage tribe of Arkansas hillbillies known as the Grumleys, rapidly escalates into a small-scale war. As the war progresses, casualties mount on both sides, reaching their peak in a pair of spectacular, vividly described set pieces: a fierce pitched battle in a local black brothel and a nocturnal massacre in a Hot Springs railroad yard. Eventually, both the novel and the war culminate in a primal confrontation in the Arkansas woods, a confrontation that can only end with a single man left standing.

Hot Springs is a big, broad-shouldered narrative that offers a generous display of Stephen Hunter's characteristic virtues. The action sequences are, as always, crisply written, carefully constructed, and absolutely authentic. Hunter's portrait of 1940s Arkansas, with its farms and tenements, its bathhouses and bookie joints, is evocative and convincing. The characters -- most of them imaginary, many of them drawn from life -- are consistently credible. Included among them are an ambitious, embittered turncoat named Frenchy Short; the assorted members of the savage -- and inbred -- Grumley clan; the crusty veteran gunfighter, D. A. Parker; an imported Irish hit man named Johnny Spanish; and the aptly named Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, whose visit to Hot Springs provides him with the template for a gambler's paradise that will eventually be called Las Vegas.

But the real heart of Hot Springs, the still point around which every other every other element revolves, is Earl Swagger, a mournful, melancholy figure with a complex history and a superhuman affinity for the requirements of warfare. Hunter's exploration of Swagger's character and of the forces -- chief among them a violent, abusive, unforgiving father -- that helped create that character, give this novel its emotional and psychological depth, lifting it well above the level of its more generic competitors. Readers already familiar with the ongoing saga of the Swagger family -- a family marked by tragedy and by an innate propensity for violence -- will find this latest installment both revelatory and irresistible. Newcomers will find it a self-contained -- and perfectly acceptable -- starting point. Hot Springs is Stephen Hunter at the top of his considerable form. Popular entertainment rarely gets much better, or more viscerally exciting, than this.

--Bill Sheehan

From the Publisher
Los Angeles Times Hunter is a consummate yarn-spinner whose eye for detail and ear for nuance...create their own riveting brand of reality.

The Denver Post Hunter is Robert B. Parker on steroids, Mickey Spillane with a thesaurus. He writes crime fiction like no one before him.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) Brilliant...His prose has that rare visual quality that takes the action off the page and into the mind....Furnished with brilliant period detail and a dynamo of a lead character, this big, brawny crime drama recountsin highly fictionalized formthe true story of the backlash against corruption and decadence in Hot Springs, Arkansas, during the years following World War II....Hunter 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.

The San Francisco Examiner Hot Springs is a richly told tale driven by complex characters, strong dialogue, and a unique plot....Hunter is one of the best storytellers of his generation and he just keeps getting better.

Publishers Weekly (starred review) Brilliant...His prose has that rare visual quality that takes the action off the page and into the mind....Furnished with brilliant period detail and a dynamo of a lead character, this big, brawny crime drama recountsin highly fictionalized formthe true story of the backlash against corruption and decadence in Hot Springs, Arkansas, during the years following World War II....Hunter 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.

The San Diego Union-Tribune In this fourth Swagger episode, Hunter has lost none of his touch. Hot Springs is an action novel that is almost as hot as the 142-degree water percolating from the Hot Springs mountain.

The Providence Sunday Journal (RI) Hunter brings power and poignancy to a tale that should be thought of as a great novel, not just a great thriller. Simply stated, he is one of the best novelists working today in any genre and Hot Springs is hands down the best book of the year so far.

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
This work by best-selling author Hunter is a "real man's book." Set in Arkansas in the 1940s, the golden age of organized crime, it's at once relentlessly violent and deeply touching, with "very interesting characters." "Who needs Superman?" The main character, Earl, "makes John Wayne look like a wuss." However, some thought "it went on too long." "A good beach read if you're lacking a boogie board."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Furnished with brilliant period detail and a dynamo of a lead character, this big, brawny crime drama recounts--in highly fictionalized form--the 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 tatters--his 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) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
It's 1946, and corruption is flourishing in Hot Springs, AR. Visitors flock there to bathe in the mineral-rich waters, but it's prostitution and gambling that bring prosperity to the mobsters who run the town. Newly elected county prosecutor Fred C. Becker thinks that cleaning up Hot Springs is his ticket to a higher office and recruits decorated World War II marine Earl Swagger, father of Hunter's recurring character Bob Lee Swagger, to run the operation. Swagger, assisted by his well-trained "Jayhawkers," raids several casinos and brothels before a disgraced Jayhawker helps the mob ambush Swagger's team. Becker pulls the plug on the violent operation, but Swagger refuses to give up the fight and instead takes the mobsters on single-handedly. The excellent narration by Jay O. Sanders smooths out the choppy abridgment, and, with film rights already sold to Miramax, this engaging thriller is a sure bet for public libraries.--Beth Farrell, Portage Cty. Dist. Lib., OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Earl Swagger returns from World War II with the medals of a hero and the moral exhaustion of a man who has seen and done too many unthinkable things, and is recruited for a different kind of war: cleaning up a corrupt gambling town in his home state of Arkansas. The bad guys, no-tably casino-czar Owney Maddox and visit-ing bigwig Bugsy Siegel, wear pricey suits and drive fancy cars, but they are just as dangerous as the enemy in the South Pacific and almost as well armed. Earl trains a small band of untried lawmen and leads them into battle for moral possession of the town. While the story is action-packed, it's the background that keeps it from being just another shoot-'em-up. Earl is haunted by both his future and his past. While he fights the good fight, his lonely wife awaits the birth of their son, who will grow up to be the hero of Hunter's earlier Swagger books. And he can't escape the ghosts of a brother who killed himself and a lawman father who was mysteriously murdered just before he left for the war. The interweaving of past and present intensifies the plot and reveals Earl as a multifaceted hero, in contrast to the stock characters who surround him. Readers who find violence exciting will get their fill, but they will also see that the scars it leaves may never heal, and that winning the war may be just the start of the battle.-Jan Tarasovic, West Springfield High School, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In the category of slam-bang, testosterone-laden, body-bag filling, hellzapoppin' potboilers, this is as good as it gets. For those who may have wondered about the gene pool that helped produce master sniper Bob Lee Swagger, the author's demigod of a series hero (Time to Hunt, 1998, etc.), here's the tell-all prequel. Earl Swagger, valiant marine, Congressional Medal of Honor winner, is Bob Lee's demigod of a daddy. We also meet Bob Lee's brave and beautiful mama. It's the summer of 1946, and Hot Springs, Arkansas, is under the thumb of gangster Owney Maddox, who has a dream: he wants to refashion Hot Springs into an oasis of sin, a place where Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, et al., will feel safe, comfortable, and cosseted. He's halfway there. On the surface Special Prosecutor Fred C. Becker doesn't seem much of a deterrent, but Becker has a dream too: he wants to be Arkansas's youngest governor ever. Moreover, he has a plan: to bring Owney down by recruiting and training an elite task force that can strike hard, fast, and ruthlessly. Earl Swagger—who better?—is charged with the training. At first, things go right. The recruits are eager and motivated. Aided by the element of surprise, they deliver a series of blows that shake the Maddox realm to its Sodom-like foundations. But then Maddox, with the whole of New York gangsterdom to draw from, recruits his own elite force. The stage is set for blood-drenched confrontations, during which lots of bad men are killed, some good men are betrayed, and Earl performs exactly the way Bob Lee's progenitor should. Natural storyteller Hunter knows the value of the occasional poignant scene to give his firefightsbreathingroom. Not for a minute to be taken seriously, but, all in all, a blast. First printing of 200,000; author tour
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451627237
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • Publication date: 7/26/2011
  • Series: Earl Swagger Series , #1
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Simon & Schuster
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 217,628
  • Product dimensions: 4.00 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Hunter has written eighteen novels. The retired chief film critic for The Washington Post, where he won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism, he has also published two collections of film criticism and a nonfiction work, American Gunfight. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Earl's daddy was a sharp-dressed man.

Each morning he shaved carefully with a well-stropped razor, buttoned a clean, crackly starched white shirt, tied a black string tie in a bow knot. Then he pulled up his suspenders and put on his black suit coat — he owned seven Sunday suits, and he wore one each day of his adult life no matter the weather, all of them black, heavy wool from the Sears, Roebuck catalogue — and slipped a lead-shot sap into his back pocket, buckled on his Colt Peacemaker and his badge, slipped his Jesus gun inside the cuff of his left wrist, adjusted his large black Stetson, and went to work sheriffing Polk County, Arkansas.

But at this particular moment Earl remembered the ties. His father took pride in his ties, tying them perfectly, so that the knot was square, the bows symmetrical and the two ends equal in length. "Always look your best," he'd say, more than once, with the sternness that expressed his place in the world. "Do your best, look your best, be your best. Never let up. Never let go. Live by the Book. That's what the Lord wants. That's what you must give."

So one of the useless things Earl knew too much about — how to clear the jam on a Browning A-3 when it choked with volcanic dust and the Japs were hosing the position down would be another — was the proper tying of a bow tie.

And the bow tie he saw before him, at the throat of a dapper little man in a double-breasted cream-colored suit, was perfectly tied. It was clearly tied by a man who loved clothes and knew clothes and took pleasure in clothes. His suit fitted him well and there was no gap between his collar and the pink flesh of his neck nor between his starched white shirt and the lapel and collar of his cream jacket. He was a peppy, friendly little man, with small pink hands and a down-homey way to him that Earl knew well from his boyhood: it was a farmer's way, a barber's way, a druggist's way, maybe the feed store manager's way, friendly yet disciplined, open so far and not any farther.

"You know," Harry Truman said to him, as Earl stared uncertainly not into the man's powerful eyes behind his rimless glasses, but at the perfect knot of his bow tie, and the perfect proportioning of the twin loops at either end of it, and the one unlooped flap of fabric, in a heavy silk brocade, burgundy, with small blue dots across it, "I've said this many a time, and by God I will say it again. I would rather have won this award than hold the high office I now hold. You boys made us so proud with what you did. You were our best and you never, ever let us down, by God. The country will owe you as long as it exists."

Earl could think of nothing to say, and hadn't been briefed on this. Remarks, in any case, were not a strong point of his. On top of that, he was more than slightly drunk, with a good third of a pint of Boone County bourbon spread throughout his system, giving him a slightly blurred perspective on the events at which he was the center. He fought a wobble that was clearly whiskey-based, swallowed, and tried to will himself to remain ramrodded at attention. No one would notice how sloshed he was if he just kept his mouth closed and his whiskey breath sealed off. His head ached. His wounds ached. He had a stupid feeling that he might grin.

"Yes, sir, First Sergeant Swagger," said the president, "you are the best this country ever brought forth." The president seemed to blink back a genuine tear. Then he removed a golden star from a jeweler's box held by a lieutenant colonel, stepped forward and as he did so unfurled the star's garland of ribbon. Since he was smallish and Earl, at six one, was largish, he had to stretch almost to tippy-toes to loop the blue about Earl's bull neck.

The Medal of Honor dangled on the front of Earl's dress blue tunic, suspended on its ribbon next to the ribbons of war displayed across his left breast, five Battle Stars, his Navy Cross, his Unit Citations and his Good Conduct Medal. Three service stripes dandied up his lower sleeves. A flashbulb popped, its effect somewhat confusing Earl, making him think ever so briefly of the Nambu tracers, which were white-blue unlike our red tracers.

A Marine captain solemnized the moment by reading the citation: "For gallantry above and beyond the call of duty, First Sergeant Earl Lee Swagger, Able Company, First Battalion, Twenty-eighth Marines, Fifth Marine Division, is awarded the Medal of Honor for actions on Iwo Jima, D plus three, at Charlie-Dog Ridge, February 22, 1945."

Behind the president Earl could see Howlin' Mad Smith and Harry Schmidt, the two Marine generals who had commanded the boys at Iwo, and next to them James Forrestal, secretary of the navy, and next to him Earl's own pretty if wan wife, Erla June, in a flowered dress, beautiful as ever, but slightly overwhelmed by all this. It wasn't the greatness of the men around her that scared her, it was what she saw still in her husband's heart.

The president seized his hand and pumped it and a polite smattering of applause arose in the Map Room, as it was called, though no maps were to be seen, but only a lot of old furniture, as in his daddy's house. The applause seemed to play off the walls and paintings and museumlike hugeness of the place. It was July 30, 1946. The war was over almost a year. Earl was no longer a Marine. His knee hardly worked at all, and his left wrist ached all the time, both of which had been struck by bullets. He still had close to thirty pieces of metal in his body. He had a pucker like a mortar crater on his ass — the 'Canal. He had another pucker in his chest, just above his left nipple — Tarawa, the long walk in through the surf, the Japs shooting the whole way. He worked in the sawmill outside Fort Smith as a section foreman. Sooner or later he would lose a hand or an arm. Everyone did.

"So what's next for you, First Sergeant?" asked the president. "Staying in the Corps? I hope so."

"No sir. Hit too many times. My left arm don't work so good."

"Damn, hate to lose a good man like you. Anyhow, there's plenty of room for you. This country's going to take off, you just watch. Just like the man said, You ain't seen nothing yet, no sir and by God. Now we enter our greatness and I know you'll be there for it. You fought hard enough."

"Yes sir," said Earl, too polite to disagree with a man he admired so fervently, the man who'd fried the Jap cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and saved a hundred thousand American boys in the process.

But disagree he did. He couldn't go back to school on this thing they called the GI Bill. He just couldn't. He could have no job selling or convincing. He could not teach because the young were so stupid and he had no patience, not anymore. He couldn't work for a man who hadn't been in the war. He couldn't be a policeman because the policemen were like his daddy, bullies with clubs who screamed too much. The world, so wonderful to so many, seemed to have made no place in it for him.

"By the way," said the president, leaning forward, "that bourbon you're drinking smells fine to me. I don't blame you. Too many idiots around to get through the day without a sip or two. This is the idiot capital of the world, let me tell you. If I could, if I didn't have to meet with some committee or other, I'd say, come on up to the office, bring your pint, and let's have a spell of sippin'!"

He gave Earl another handshake, and beamed at him with those blue eyes so intense they could see through doors. But then in a magic way, men gently moved among them and seemed to push the president this way, and Earl that. Earl didn't even see who was sliding him through the people, but soon enough he was ferried to the generals, two men so strong of face and eye they seemed hardly human.

"Swagger, you make us proud," one said.

"First Sergeant, you were a hell of a Marine," said the other. "You were one goddamned hell of a Marine, and if I could, I'd rewrite the regs right now and let you stay in. It's where you belong. It's your home."

That was Smith, whom many called a butcher or a meat-grinder, but who breached the empire on Marine bodies because there was no other way to do it.

"Thank you, sir," said Earl. "This here thing, it's for all the boys who didn't make it back."

"Wear it proudly, First Sergeant," said Old Man Schmidt. "For their sakes."

Then Earl was magically whisked away again and, like a package at the end of a conveyor belt, he was simply dumped into nothingness. He looked around, saw Junie standing by herself.

She was radiantly pretty, even if a little fearful. She had been a junior at Southeast Missouri State Teachers College, in Cape Girardeau, he the heavily decorated Marine master sergeant back on a bond drive before the big push for the Jap home islands. She was a beautiful girl and he was a beautiful man. They met in Fort Smith, at a USO dance, and got married that weekend. They had four days of delirious love, and then he went back to the war, killed another hundred or so Japs, got hit twice more, lost more men, and came home.

"How're you doing?" he said.

"Oh, I'm fine," she said. "I don't want anybody paying me any attention at all. This is the day for the hero, not the hero's wife."

"I told you, Junie, I ain't no hero. I'm just the lucky sonofabitch who walked away from the shell that killed the ten other guys. They're giving me the medal of luck today, that's all."

"Earl, you are a hero. You should be so proud."

"See, most people, let me tell you. They don't know nothing. They don't know how it was. What they think it was, what they're giving me this thing for, see, it had nothing to do with nothing."

"Don't get yourself upset again."

Earl had a problem with what the world thought as opposed to what he knew to be true. It was always getting him into trouble. It seemed few of the combat men had made it back, but because he was a big hero people were always stopping him to tell him what a great man he was and then to lecture him on their ideas about the war.

So he would listen politely but a little bolt of anger would begin to build until he'd be off and some ugliness had happened.

"You can't be so mad all the time," she said.

"I know, I know. Listen to me. You'd think the Japs had won the way I carry on. When is this mess going to be over?"

He slipped around behind Junie and used her as cover, reaching inside his tunic to his belt line and there, where Daddy had carried his sap for putting down the unruly nigger or trashy white boy, he carried a flask of Boone County bourbon, for putting down unruly thoughts.

He got it out smoothly, unscrewed its lid, and in seconds, with the same easy physical grace that let him hit running targets offhand at two hundred yards with a PFC's Garand, had it up to his lips.

The bourbon hit like bricks falling from the roof. That effect he enjoyed, the impact, the blurred vision, the immediate softening of all things that rubbed at him.

"Earl," she said. "You could get in trouble."

Who would care? he thought.

A young Marine captain without a hair on his chin slid next to them.

"First Sergeant," he muttered, "in about five minutes the car will take you back to the hotel. You'll have a couple hours to pack and eat. The Rock Island leaves at 2000 hours from Union Station. Your stateroom is all reserved, but you should be at the train by 1945 hours. The car will pick you and your luggage up at 1900 hours. Squared away?"

"Yes sir," said Earl to the earnest child.

The boy sped away.

"You'd think they could supply you with a combat fellow," said Junie. "I mean, after what you did for them."

"He's all right. He's just a kid. He don't mean no harm."

In fact the young man reminded him of the too many boys who'd served under him, and never came back, or if they came back, came back so different, so mangled, it would have been easier on them if they hadn't come back at all.

"You should be happy, Earl. I can tell, you're not."

"I'm fine," he said, feeling a sudden need for another gigantic blast of bourbon. "I just need to go to the bathroom. Do you suppose they have them in a fine place like this?"

"Oh, Earl, they have to. Everybody goes to the bathroom!"

A Negro servant was standing near the door, and so Earl made his inquiry and was directed through a hall and through a door. He pulled it closed behind him, snapped the lock.

The toilet was of no use to him at all, but he unbuttoned his tunic and slid the bourbon out, and had a long swallow, fire burning down the whole way, rattling on the downward trip. It whacked him hard. He took another and it was done. Damn!

He took a washcloth, soaked it in cold water and wiped down his forehead, almost making the pain there go away for a bit, but not quite. When he hung the washrag up, the pain returned. He dropped the flask into the wastebasket.

Then he reached around and pulled out his .45 automatic.

I carried this here gun on Iwo Jima and before that on Tarawa and Guadalcanal and Saipan and Tinian. He'd done some killing with it too, but more with his tommy gun. Still, the gun was just a solid piece on his belt that somehow kept him sane. The gun, for him, wasn't a part of death, it was a piece of life. Without the gun, you were helpless.

This one, sleek, with brown plastic grips and nubby little sights, was loaded. With a strong thumb, he drew back the hammer till it clicked. He looked at himself in the mirror: the Marine hero, with the medal around his neck, the love of his country, the affection of his wife, with a full life ahead of him in the glamorous modern 1940s!

He put the gun against his temple and his finger caressed the trigger. It would take so little and he could just be with the only men he cared about or could feel love for, who were most of them resting under crosses on shithole islands nobody ever heard of and would soon forget.

"Earl," came Junie's voice. "Earl, the car is here. Come on now, we have to go."

Earl decocked the automatic, slipped it back into his belt, pulled the tunic tight over it, buttoned up and walked out.

Copyright © 2000 by Stephen Hunter

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Chapter One

Earl's daddy was a sharp-dressed man.

Each morning he shaved carefully with a well-stropped razor, buttoned a clean, crackly starched white shirt, tied a black string tie in a bow knot. Then he pulled up his suspenders and put on his black suit coat — he owned seven Sunday suits, and he wore one each day of his adult life no matter the weather, all of them black, heavy wool from the Sears, Roebuck catalogue — and slipped a lead-shot sap into his back pocket, buckled on his Colt Peacemaker and his badge, slipped his Jesus gun inside the cuff of his left wrist, adjusted his large black Stetson, and went to work sheriffing Polk County, Arkansas.

But at this particular moment Earl remembered the ties. His father took pride in his ties, tying them perfectly, so that the knot was square, the bows symmetrical and the two ends equal in length. "Always look your best," he'd say, more than once, with the sternness that expressed his place in the world. "Do your best, look your best, be your best. Never let up. Never let go. Live by the Book. That's what the Lord wants. That's what you must give."

So one of the useless things Earl knew too much about — how to clear the jam on a Browning A-3 when it choked with volcanic dust and the Japs were hosing the position down would be another — was the proper tying of a bow tie.

And the bow tie he saw before him, at the throat of a dapper little man in a double-breasted cream-colored suit, was perfectly tied. It was clearly tied by a man who loved clothes and knew clothes and took pleasure in clothes. His suit fitted him well and there was no gap between his collar and the pink flesh of his neck nor between his starched white shirt and the lapel and collar of his cream jacket. He was a peppy, friendly little man, with small pink hands and a down-homey way to him that Earl knew well from his boyhood: it was a farmer's way, a barber's way, a druggist's way, maybe the feed store manager's way, friendly yet disciplined, open so far and not any farther.

"You know," Harry Truman said to him, as Earl stared uncertainly not into the man's powerful eyes behind his rimless glasses, but at the perfect knot of his bow tie, and the perfect proportioning of the twin loops at either end of it, and the one unlooped flap of fabric, in a heavy silk brocade, burgundy, with small blue dots across it, "I've said this many a time, and by God I will say it again. I would rather have won this award than hold the high office I now hold. You boys made us so proud with what you did. You were our best and you never, ever let us down, by God. The country will owe you as long as it exists."

Earl could think of nothing to say, and hadn't been briefed on this. Remarks, in any case, were not a strong point of his. On top of that, he was more than slightly drunk, with a good third of a pint of Boone County bourbon spread throughout his system, giving him a slightly blurred perspective on the events at which he was the center. He fought a wobble that was clearly whiskey-based, swallowed, and tried to will himself to remain ramrodded at attention. No one would notice how sloshed he was if he just kept his mouth closed and his whiskey breath sealed off. His head ached. His wounds ached. He had a stupid feeling that he might grin.

"Yes, sir, First Sergeant Swagger," said the president, "you are the best this country ever brought forth." The president seemed to blink back a genuine tear. Then he removed a golden star from a jeweler's box held by a lieutenant colonel, stepped forward and as he did so unfurled the star's garland of ribbon. Since he was smallish and Earl, at six one, was largish, he had to stretch almost to tippy-toes to loop the blue about Earl's bull neck.

The Medal of Honor dangled on the front of Earl's dress blue tunic, suspended on its ribbon next to the ribbons of war displayed across his left breast, five Battle Stars, his Navy Cross, his Unit Citations and his Good Conduct Medal. Three service stripes dandied up his lower sleeves. A flashbulb popped, its effect somewhat confusing Earl, making him think ever so briefly of the Nambu tracers, which were white-blue unlike our red tracers.

A Marine captain solemnized the moment by reading the citation: "For gallantry above and beyond the call of duty, First Sergeant Earl Lee Swagger, Able Company, First Battalion, Twenty-eighth Marines, Fifth Marine Division, is awarded the Medal of Honor for actions on Iwo Jima, D plus three, at Charlie-Dog Ridge, February 22, 1945."

Behind the president Earl could see Howlin' Mad Smith and Harry Schmidt, the two Marine generals who had commanded the boys at Iwo, and next to them James Forrestal, secretary of the navy, and next to him Earl's own pretty if wan wife, Erla June, in a flowered dress, beautiful as ever, but slightly overwhelmed by all this. It wasn't the greatness of the men around her that scared her, it was what she saw still in her husband's heart.

The president seized his hand and pumped it and a polite smattering of applause arose in the Map Room, as it was called, though no maps were to be seen, but only a lot of old furniture, as in his daddy's house. The applause seemed to play off the walls and paintings and museumlike hugeness of the place. It was July 30, 1946. The war was over almost a year. Earl was no longer a Marine. His knee hardly worked at all, and his left wrist ached all the time, both of which had been struck by bullets. He still had close to thirty pieces of metal in his body. He had a pucker like a mortar crater on his ass — the 'Canal. He had another pucker in his chest, just above his left nipple — Tarawa, the long walk in through the surf, the Japs shooting the whole way. He worked in the sawmill outside Fort Smith as a section foreman. Sooner or later he would lose a hand or an arm. Everyone did.

"So what's next for you, First Sergeant?" asked the president. "Staying in the Corps? I hope so."

"No sir. Hit too many times. My left arm don't work so good."

"Damn, hate to lose a good man like you. Anyhow, there's plenty of room for you. This country's going to take off, you just watch. Just like the man said, You ain't seen nothing yet, no sir and by God. Now we enter our greatness and I know you'll be there for it. You fought hard enough."

"Yes sir," said Earl, too polite to disagree with a man he admired so fervently, the man who'd fried the Jap cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and saved a hundred thousand American boys in the process.

But disagree he did. He couldn't go back to school on this thing they called the GI Bill. He just couldn't. He could have no job selling or convincing. He could not teach because the young were so stupid and he had no patience, not anymore. He couldn't work for a man who hadn't been in the war. He couldn't be a policeman because the policemen were like his daddy, bullies with clubs who screamed too much. The world, so wonderful to so many, seemed to have made no place in it for him.

"By the way," said the president, leaning forward, "that bourbon you're drinking smells fine to me. I don't blame you. Too many idiots around to get through the day without a sip or two. This is the idiot capital of the world, let me tell you. If I could, if I didn't have to meet with some committee or other, I'd say, come on up to the office, bring your pint, and let's have a spell of sippin'!"

He gave Earl another handshake, and beamed at him with those blue eyes so intense they could see through doors. But then in a magic way, men gently moved among them and seemed to push the president this way, and Earl that. Earl didn't even see who was sliding him through the people, but soon enough he was ferried to the generals, two men so strong of face and eye they seemed hardly human.

"Swagger, you make us proud," one said.

"First Sergeant, you were a hell of a Marine," said the other. "You were one goddamned hell of a Marine, and if I could, I'd rewrite the regs right now and let you stay in. It's where you belong. It's your home."

That was Smith, whom many called a butcher or a meat-grinder, but who breached the empire on Marine bodies because there was no other way to do it.

"Thank you, sir," said Earl. "This here thing, it's for all the boys who didn't make it back."

"Wear it proudly, First Sergeant," said Old Man Schmidt. "For their sakes."

Then Earl was magically whisked away again and, like a package at the end of a conveyor belt, he was simply dumped into nothingness. He looked around, saw Junie standing by herself.

She was radiantly pretty, even if a little fearful. She had been a junior at Southeast Missouri State Teachers College, in Cape Girardeau, he the heavily decorated Marine master sergeant back on a bond drive before the big push for the Jap home islands. She was a beautiful girl and he was a beautiful man. They met in Fort Smith, at a USO dance, and got married that weekend. They had four days of delirious love, and then he went back to the war, killed another hundred or so Japs, got hit twice more, lost more men, and came home.

"How're you doing?" he said.

"Oh, I'm fine," she said. "I don't want anybody paying me any attention at all. This is the day for the hero, not the hero's wife."

"I told you, Junie, I ain't no hero. I'm just the lucky sonofabitch who walked away from the shell that killed the ten other guys. They're giving me the medal of luck today, that's all."

"Earl, you are a hero. You should be so proud."

"See, most people, let me tell you. They don't know nothing. They don't know how it was. What they think it was, what they're giving me this thing for, see, it had nothing to do with nothing."

"Don't get yourself upset again."

Earl had a problem with what the world thought as opposed to what he knew to be true. It was always getting him into trouble. It seemed few of the combat men had made it back, but because he was a big hero people were always stopping him to tell him what a great man he was and then to lecture him on their ideas about the war.

So he would listen politely but a little bolt of anger would begin to build until he'd be off and some ugliness had happened.

"You can't be so mad all the time," she said.

"I know, I know. Listen to me. You'd think the Japs had won the way I carry on. When is this mess going to be over?"

He slipped around behind Junie and used her as cover, reaching inside his tunic to his belt line and there, where Daddy had carried his sap for putting down the unruly nigger or trashy white boy, he carried a flask of Boone County bourbon, for putting down unruly thoughts.

He got it out smoothly, unscrewed its lid, and in seconds, with the same easy physical grace that let him hit running targets offhand at two hundred yards with a PFC's Garand, had it up to his lips.

The bourbon hit like bricks falling from the roof. That effect he enjoyed, the impact, the blurred vision, the immediate softening of all things that rubbed at him.

"Earl," she said. "You could get in trouble."

Who would care? he thought.

A young Marine captain without a hair on his chin slid next to them.

"First Sergeant," he muttered, "in about five minutes the car will take you back to the hotel. You'll have a couple hours to pack and eat. The Rock Island leaves at 2000 hours from Union Station. Your stateroom is all reserved, but you should be at the train by 1945 hours. The car will pick you and your luggage up at 1900 hours. Squared away?"

"Yes sir," said Earl to the earnest child.

The boy sped away.

"You'd think they could supply you with a combat fellow," said Junie. "I mean, after what you did for them."

"He's all right. He's just a kid. He don't mean no harm."

In fact the young man reminded him of the too many boys who'd served under him, and never came back, or if they came back, came back so different, so mangled, it would have been easier on them if they hadn't come back at all.

"You should be happy, Earl. I can tell, you're not."

"I'm fine," he said, feeling a sudden need for another gigantic blast of bourbon. "I just need to go to the bathroom. Do you suppose they have them in a fine place like this?"

"Oh, Earl, they have to. Everybody goes to the bathroom!"

A Negro servant was standing near the door, and so Earl made his inquiry and was directed through a hall and through a door. He pulled it closed behind him, snapped the lock.

The toilet was of no use to him at all, but he unbuttoned his tunic and slid the bourbon out, and had a long swallow, fire burning down the whole way, rattling on the downward trip. It whacked him hard. He took another and it was done. Damn!

He took a washcloth, soaked it in cold water and wiped down his forehead, almost making the pain there go away for a bit, but not quite. When he hung the washrag up, the pain returned. He dropped the flask into the wastebasket.

Then he reached around and pulled out his .45 automatic.

I carried this here gun on Iwo Jima and before that on Tarawa and Guadalcanal and Saipan and Tinian. He'd done some killing with it too, but more with his tommy gun. Still, the gun was just a solid piece on his belt that somehow kept him sane. The gun, for him, wasn't a part of death, it was a piece of life. Without the gun, you were helpless.

This one, sleek, with brown plastic grips and nubby little sights, was loaded. With a strong thumb, he drew back the hammer till it clicked. He looked at himself in the mirror: the Marine hero, with the medal around his neck, the love of his country, the affection of his wife, with a full life ahead of him in the glamorous modern 1940s!

He put the gun against his temple and his finger caressed the trigger. It would take so little and he could just be with the only men he cared about or could feel love for, who were most of them resting under crosses on shithole islands nobody ever heard of and would soon forget.

"Earl," came Junie's voice. "Earl, the car is here. Come on now, we have to go."

Earl decocked the automatic, slipped it back into his belt, pulled the tunic tight over it, buttoned up and walked out.

Copyright © 2000 by Stephen Hunter

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 21 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(9)

4 Star

(9)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(1)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2013

    THE BEST

    It doesnt get any better than this. This novel kept sleep at bay
    to my wonderful surprise. Earl S. Is basic...hard...and honest.

    More important..for a southerner he learned and excepted the
    the truth of life...blood.... regardless of ethnicity....is all rhe same. Character is the universal and defining quality of men.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    I have read many of Stephen Hunter's books and find this one to be one of the best. It is filled with action and has the twists and turns that most good books have. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the style of writing that Hunter uses.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Can't find a more thrilling novel with Bob Lee Swaggers Pop Earl Swagger starring.

    It's like your reading history and violence through the thoughts of these interesting characters so much that you have a hard time separating fact from fistion. A movie if there ever was one.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2009

    Chicago South

    A story more for the 30's rather than the 40's or 50's but well done. Not the slang of Micky Spillane nor just the facts of Dragnet. This is the man, what he did, how he did it and what it cost him.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2007

    Hunter's Best

    I cheated a bit, I actually believe that Hot Springs and Dirty White Boys are Hunter's two best books, but no matter. This book is the real deal. The characters seemed real and for the first time I started to 'get' my father's WWII generation. The action is relentless and the research immaculate, the period, pitch perfect. Be warned! Hunter generally writes one great book and then follows it with a fairly lukewarm effort, almost as if he had too much material for one book, but not enough for two. If you read this and like it, check the dates of publication and skip forwards and back. Read the reviews. At any rate this one was GOOD!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2005

    Good start, then a roller-coaster ride

    I really liked this book. I liked it enough to order the two other Earl Swagger novels. But I needed to warm up to it as after a strong opening it bogged down for awhile. The pace picks up and the writing gets better in terms of character development after the midpoint of the book. This is the first in the series and I hope the others keep all the strong points of this story. There are many historical references here which for the most part I did not check. The one I did check matches recorded history but it is linked to the end of the book, and I tend to feel the author inserted a character into history in a way that weakened the book-the last chapter could have been left out and never missed. Lots of action, excellent scene setting, Earl is fleshed out very well as a character at the beginning and end in particular, the story has threads that are brought together in a satisfying way. The weak points are a soft middle while the plot is being set up and the 'Die Hard' invincibility of Earl Swagger (although you come to like him enough to almost overlook that). Overall, a good read, especially if you like classic crime thrillers.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2002

    UNIQUE, INTERESTING AND WELL WRITTEN

    One of the bests books I've ever read. I liked it so much, I just ordered three more of his boooks

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2001

    Explain The Ending (Spoiler Review)

    I am a chronic fan of Stephen Hunter, but this book was weak - namely an explosive opening and middle with an ending that made NO SENSE! Please, for the love literature, God, and everything I hold holy, explain this to me: Why would Frenchy Short tip off Bugsy Seagal to Earl - and then, inexplicably - kill him three pages later 'for the cowboy'? Why, why, why!! Nights I have stayed up trying to figure this out - was Hunter beat for ideas and just throwing them end to cash a check? Maybe there was a typo in the book and it wasn't supposed to be Frenchy Short that tipped Bugsy?? This frustrates me to no end because I really enjoy this author. Please explain...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2000

    If you like Bob Lee, you will love Earl.

    In Hot Springs, Stephen Hunter introduces us to Earl Swagger, father of well - known character Bob Lee Swagger. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and while it may not be as action - packed as some of Hunter's other novels, it was impossible for me to put down. With Earl, Hunter does a wonderful job of illustrating for us the internal turmoil that only someone who has killed men in combat can truly realize.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2000

    Not just for men......... :)

    I am one of the biggest 'Swagger' fans! I think Hot Springs was a long time coming. It's nice to see where Bob Lee Swagger comes from. I don't think Stephen Hunnter books are a 'so called man's book' in the least! I have read all of them and find them very exciting, my only problem with Hunter, is that he doesn't write fast enough!! I hate finishing one of his books...too long till the next one. If you haven't read all of his books, you have no idea what you are missing, but you have alot to look forward too!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2000

    It all comes together, again!

    Being a fan of this author's series, this book ties the series into a starting point for the other books, plus a surprise revelation which ties into Hunter's first novel, The Second Saladin. If you have read his novels, they intermingle stoprylines together, and leave you re-reading the others or hoping for another new one! This book points the way for the next release. I hope to see a new page turner involving Bob the Nailer, Frenchy Short, and the other Hunter personas in 60's South East Asian conflicts! Excellent story. Read this, and check out the others!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2000

    Wait for paperback

    I am a huge Stephen Hunter fan. I couldn't wait to get my hands on Hot Springs. It's a pretty good story, and there are sections that you can't put down. Unfortunately, they don't flow evenly through the book. If you've never read Stephen Hunter, start with Point of Impact. If you're already a fan, wait for the paperback.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2000

    A Great Story, Inside and Otherwise

    First, a disclaimer. I know Steve, hunt with him, and was present when parts of this book took shape in his mind. Then I read it in galleys. And still I ordered it. For Bob Lee Swagger fans -- and who isn't? -- 'Hot Springs' is sequel, prequel, and the book that brings order to the Swagger history. It helps that it's a terrific story, filled with the kind of insights and sidelights that should make any savvy reader grin, shake your head, and nod in agreement all the same time. Some of the bit players are purely priceless, particularly if you can identify them. By the way, the story is about Earl Swagger, Bob Lee's old man, and several important characters in earlier (or later, depending on your point of view) Hunter novels make appearances in 'Hot Springs.' One of them, if you're a real fan, will be identifiable despite making the briefest of appearances. Read 'Hot Springs' with an eye to real history and to Swagger history. Steve intertwines them to create a fascinating novel that you won't want to put down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2000

    Hunter Scores Again (But Not As Highly As His Past 4 Books)!

    Hot Springs is another in the line of fast-paced, highly entertaining, action-packed books from Stephen Hunter. This one has Bob Lee Swagger's father, Earl, as the main character. In the absolute, Hot Springs is a book I enjoyed a lot and I think you will, too. However, on a comparative basis, it does not measure up on the level of suspense and credibility to Hunter's more recent books (i.e. Point Of Impact, Dirty White Boys, Black Light and Time To Hunt).

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)