Review

Hot Springs

by Stephen Hunter

Read an Excerpt

HOT
SPRINGS is 1) a town in Arkansas; 2) the unofficial nickname the U.
S. Secret Service has for the Lincoln Bedroom when Barbra Streisand
is in town and Hilary is not; 3) the name of the latest thriller by
Stephen Hunter; or 4) All of the above. The answer, of course, is
4); and, although I could go on ad nauseum about the other three
answers, I'm going to confine myself to number three.
Stephen Hunter quite simply has no peer. There are a lot of
people out there doing this type of action/adventure,
three-explosions-or-firefights-per-chapter, but Hunter...well, he
has carved out a little niche within a niche. Every one of his
books has a memorable scene that readers are going to carry away
with them. I can't even drive past a Denny's without thinking of
DIRTY WHITE BOYS, or drive though a snowfall without thinking of
the tracking scene in TIME TO HUNT. And I'm never going to be able
to look at a staircase without thinking of a particular scene in
Hunter's latest, HOT SPRINGS. Or, for that matter, drive past a
railroad yard. Or a bar on a side street in a small, strange city.
Hunter is that type of writer. And HOT SPRINGS is that type of
book.
Hunter, in HOT SPRINGS, adds another chapter to the mythos of
the Swagger family. This particular account jumps back in time to
the post-war 1940s. Earl Swagger, a heavily decorated but haunted
Marine, is back from the War and back in a world he does not fit
into, despite the best efforts of his loving and suddenly pregnant
wife. When Swagger is approached to train a group of law
enforcement officers for a crime busting mission, he jumps at the
chance.
The
target of the group is the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. The city,
known for the alleged healing quality of its waters, is also
rapidly becoming known for the easy availability of its illegal
vices. The city is corrupt from the top down, and the newly elected
prosecutor, with his eye on bigger and better things, has promised
to clean it up. For Swagger, the planning and the mission --- and
the attendant violence that goes with it --- remind him of the War;
and Hunter is simply amazing as he subtly and gradually shades in a
composite picture of a man who is simultaneously drawn to and
repelled by those forces that have shaped him and continue to do
so.
Hunter paints Swagger as a man who does not fear death and so
fears nothing. What is one to do with such an adversary? Or, for
that matter, with such an ally? The officers that Swagger trains
and subsequently leads know him to be the heart and soul of their
unit and are constantly amazed at his ability to lead and outthink
the outlaws they set themselves against. There are conflicting
agendas, however, on both sides. Maybe they will cancel each other
out; maybe not.

Hunter is simply amazing here. His always amazing knowledge of
ordnance --- not the Tom Clancy type, just your simple,
garden-variety, spread-the-home-invader-all-over-the-walls-type
that no household should do or be without --- is on display here
once again and is alone worth the price of admission. The ancillary
research that is quietly on display in the background --- the city
of Little Rock, not to mention 1940s America and its people --- is
incredible. And Hunter's ear for mountain dialogue --- half 14th
Century royalty, half mountain, all real --- is not something that
can be picked up in quiet afternoons in a library. HOT SPRINGS is a
story of corruption in a time when people were not afraid to call
it by its name and the people, like Swagger, who were not afraid to
do something about it. Hunter makes the story as real as if it were
taking place right now, next door, rather than a half-century ago
in Arkansas. And, about a quarter of the way through, he has a
little joke with Clinton too. Simply amazing, and highly
recommended, for those who like their action undiluted.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Hot Springs
by Stephen Hunter

  • Publication Date: June 27, 2000
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 478 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 068486360X
  • ISBN-13: 9780684863603