In Pale Horse Coming the unforgettable Earl Swagger returns in a searing follow-up to Hot Springs, Stephen Hunter's New York Times bestselling novel. It once again demonstrates why Hunter has been called "the only modern writer who can lay claim to being Dashiell Hammett's immediate successor."
It's 1951, and the last place in America any sane man wishes to visit is Thebes State Penal Farm (Colored) in Thebes, Mississippi. Up a dark river, surrounded by swamps and impenetrable piney woods, it's the Old South at its most brutal -- a place of violence, racial terror, and even more horrific rumors. Of the few who make the journey, black or white, even fewer return.
But in that year, two men will come to Thebes. The first is Sam Vincent, the former prosecuting attorney of Polk County, Arkansas. With great misgivings, Sam accepts a job from a smooth-talking Chicago lawyer to investigate a disappearance. Sam has heard of Thebes and knows that in the Negro culture he only imperfectly understands, the place has a special resonance of horror.
Sam is a careful man. Before he leaves on this dangerous trip, he confesses his fears to his former investigator Earl Swagger, a Marine hero on Iwo Jima, veteran of the mob wars in Hot Springs, and now a sergeant of the Arkansas State Police. Earl pledges that if Sam is not back by a certain time, he will come looking for him. Sam will bring his knowledge of the law, his compassion, and his sense of the rational to Thebes, but Earl will bring only his guns.
What they encounter there is something beyond their wildest imaginations for evil. The dying black town is ruled by white deputies on horseback who are more like an occupying army than a police force. Each citizen of the town is in debt to the Store, the one remaining civic institution, and the only escape is over the wild currents of the dark river that drowns as many people as it liberates.
But nothing in the town can prepare Earl for the prison itself where he becomes the first white inmate. It is a site of fear: Run by an aging madman with insane theories of racial purity, it is administered by a brutally efficient Stalin of a guard sergeant known as Bigboy. The convicts call him The Whip Man -- he can take a man's soul with his nine feet of braided catgut.
Both Sam and Earl will be challenged to the limits of their strength by this place and will struggle not only for their own survival, but with deeper questions: What does a man do when confronted with such evil? Can it be remedied? Can it be rectified, redirected, reformed?
Or must it just be destroyed? And if so, where would you find the men to destroy it?
Drawing on the oldest myths, classical and modern literature, popular culture at its most vigorous, and the Golden Age gun writers of the '50s, Pale Horse Coming is a stunning story of violence and retribution, written with the same high velocity of Hunter's classic thrillers Point of Impact, Dirty White Boys, Black Light, and Time to Hunt.
Earl Swagger, the gritty WWII-vet hero of Hunter's bestselling thriller Hot Springs, is back in this virtually un-put-downable gothic chiller about unspeakable evil in the murky Mississippi bayous. In 1951, five years after the conclusion of Hot Springs, straight arrow ex-county prosecutor Sam Vincent tells Earl - his trusted friend and former investigator, now a sergeant in the Arkansas state police - that he has been hired by a Chicago attorney to travel to Thebes, a mythic prison camp in the remote backwaters of Mississippi to verify the death of a black man who is the beneficiary of a will left by a one-time employer. When Earl hasn't heard from Sam by an agreed upon date, he goes looking for him and discovers that he is being held in the prison. Earl frees Sam, but is taken prisoner himself. Tortured by the prison hierarchy who fear he has been sent by a federal agency to expose their abominable secrets, Earl, aided by a trusty, escapes, vowing to return to destroy the camp and kill its evil warden and his henchmen. A staunch upholder of the law, self-righteous Sam refuses to participate in Earl's plan for retribution, but promises not to interfere. Assembling a strike force of seven of the country's most able gunmen, Earl sets out to wipe Thebes from the face of the earth. Meanwhile, probing the fate of a famous doctor who worked for the military researching biological warfare during WWII, Sam realizes Thebes may harbor an even darker secret after a bomb attempt on his life. Unforgettable characters in vivid settings more than offset the melodramatic, credibility stretching scenarios of the hard-driving thriller. Once again, Hunter proves he is a master of the cinematic prose. Agent, Esther Newberg, ICM. (Oct. 12).
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Showing 1-2 of the 2 most recent reviews
1 . You won't be able to put this book down..
Posted October 03, 2010 by Ginnie , Harrisburg, PAIf you love movies about good triumphing over evil, told with entertaining prose and gritty reality, you'll love this book. It's hero is a man everyone wants to admire for his bravery, fairness and essential goodness, and it's pure satisfaction when he brings about retribution for the attrocities that have been going on far too long in an unspeakable remote black prison in the mid 1900's. One of the top five if not the top books of fiction I've ever read, and definitely the top in it's category.
2 . Intense
Posted December 27, 2009 by Lloyd , Monticello, Ga.This book is about honor, devotion, and extreme justice. I loved every minute of this book.
August 24, 2008
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Excerpt from Pale Horse Coming by Stephen Hunter
In mid-1947, Jefferson Barnes, the prosecuting attorney of Polk County, Arkansas, finally died. Upon that tragedy -- the old man fell out of one of those new golf cart things on vacation in Hot Springs, rolled down a gully screaming damnation and hellfire all the way, and broke his neck on a culvert -- Sam Vincent, his loyal Number 2, moved up to the big job. Then in '48, Sam was anointed by the Democratic party (there was no other in western Arkansas), which ran him on the same ticket with Harry S. Truman and Fred C. Becker. As did those worthies, he won handily. For Sam, it was the goal toward which he had been aiming for many years. He had always wanted to be a servant of the law, and now, much better, he was the law.
Sam was six foot one, forty-four, with a bushy head of hair and a brusque demeanor that would not be called "lovable" for many years. He stared immoderately and did not suffer fools, idiots, Yankees, carpetbaggers, the small of spirit or the breakers of the law gladly. He wore baggy suits flecked with pipe ash, heavy glasses, and walked in a bounding swoop. He hunted in the fall, followed the St. Louis Browns during the summer, when he had time, which he hardly ever did, and tied flies, though he fished rarely enough. Otherwise, he just worked like hell. His was classic American career insanity, putting the professional so far above the personal there almost was no personal, in the process alienating wife and children with his indifference, burning out secretaries with his demands, annoying the sheriff's detectives with his directions. In what little time remained, he served on the draft board (he had won the Bronze Star during the Battle of the Bulge), traveled five states to interview promising high school seniors who had applied to his beloved Princeton, played a weekly round of golf with the county powers at the country club, and drank too much eight-year-old bourbon. He knew everybody; he was respected by everybody. He was a great man, a great American. He had the highest conviction rate of any county prosecutor in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, or Tennessee for that matter.
He was not reelected. In fact, he lost in a landslide to a no'count lawyer named Febus Bookins, a genial hack who smelled of gin all the time and meant only to rob the county blind during his term of office. He called himself a reformer, and his goal was to reform his bank account into something more respectable.
Sam had made one mistake, but it was a mistake which few in his home state, and in fact not many elsewhere, could ignore. In 1949, he prosecuted a man named Willis Beaudine for raping a young woman named Nadine Johnson. It was an unremarkable case, save for the fact that Willis was a white person and Nadine a Negro girl. It is true she was quite light, what some would call a "high yeller," and that she had comely ways, and was, perhaps, not normally so innocent as she looked when she appeared in court. But facts were facts, law was law. Certain evidence had been developed by Sam's former investigator, Earl Swagger, who was now a state police sergeant and was famous for the big medal he had won during the war. Earl, however, risked nothing by testifying against Willis, for Earl was known to be a prideful, bull-headed man who could not be controlled by anyone and was feared by some. Sam, on the other hand, risked everything, and lost everything, although Willis was convicted and spent six months at the Tucker Farm. As for Nadine, she moved from town because even in her own community she was considered what Negro women called a " 'ho," and moved to St. Louis, where her appetites soon got her murdered in a case of no interest to anyone.
Sam had taken his defeat bitterly. If his family thought he would see them more often, they were mistaken. Instead, he rented a small office on the town square of Blue Eye, the county seat, and commenced to spend most of his days and many of his nights there. He worked such small cases as came his way, but mainly he plotted out ways to return to office. He still hunted with Earl. His other friend was Connie Long-
acre, the smart Eastern woman whom the county's richest, most worthless son had brought back from his education at Annapolis in '30 and his failed naval career thereafter. Connie had soon learned how appetite-driven a man her Rance was, and while trying to raise her own hellion son, Stephen, fell to friendship with Sam, who alone in that part of Arkansas had been to a Broadway play, had met a gal under the clock at the Biltmore, and who didn't think Henry Wallace was a pawn of the Red Kremlin.
Sam was never stupid, not on a single day in his life. He understood that one thing he had to do was to regain the trust of the white people. Therefore he utterly refused to take any cases involving Negroes, even if they only revolved around one dark person suing another. There was a Negro lawyer in town, a Mr. Theopolis Simmons, who could handle such things; meanwhile, Sam worked hard, politicked aggressively, kept tabs, sucked up to the gentry who had deposed him so gently, and tried to stay focused.
Then, one day in June of 1951, an unusual event occurred, though nothing in that day or the day or week before had suggested it would. Sam, alone in his office, worked through probate papers for a farmer named Lewis who had died intestate and whose estate was now being sued for back taxes by the state, which would drive his widow and four children off the property to -- well, to nothing. Sam would not let this happen, if only he could figure out a way to --
He heard the door open. In the county's employ he had always had a secretary; now, on his own, he didn't. He stood, pushed his way through the fog of dense pipe smoke, and opened the door to peer into his anteroom. An elegant gentleman had seated himself on the sofa and was paging absently through an old copy of Look magazine.
"Sir, do you have an appointment?" Sam asked.
The man looked up at him.
He was tanned softly, as if from an expensive vacation at the beach, balding, and looked well tended, of an age that could have been anywhere between thirty and fifty. He was certainly prosperous, in a smooth-fitting blue pinstripe suit, a creamy white shirt and the black tie of a serious man. A homburg, gray pearl, lay on the seat beside him; his shined shoes were cap-toed black bluchers, possibly bespoke, and little clocks or flowers marked his socks. The shoes were shined, Sam noticed, all the way down to the sole, which was an indication that a professional had done them, in a rail station, a hotel lobby, a barbershop.