Reviews for The vapors :a southern family, the New York mob, and the rise and fall of Hot Springs, America's forgotten capital of vice

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The history of a small town in Arkansas that once rivaled Las Vegas in gambling, booze, and prostitution. For most Americans, Hot Springs, Arkansas, doesn’t raise an eyebrow, but folks who lived in the state from the 1930s to the ’60s knew the place as “the most sinful little city in the world.” In his first book, Hill, a Brooklyn-based journalist from Hot Springs, tells a juicy tale of how such a place was born and stayed in business for so long as the “sin city of the Bible Belt.” Due to the Vapors, therapeutic, thermal springs offering relief to those in pain, the area “was the first park to be managed by the federal government.” The author offers up a huge cast of colorful, mostly sleazy characters, but he focuses on three key players: Hazel Hill, the author’s grandmother; gangster Dane Harris, boss gambler and the “most powerful man in Hot Springs”; and Owney “The Killer” Madden, who was sent to the town in 1931 by Meyer Lansky to be the “mob’s ambassador.” Weaving their stories in and out, from 1931 to 1968, Hill unfolds an engrossing history of corruption at the highest levels. During World War II, Hot Springs and its excellent hospital became a refuge for soldiers seeking much-needed R & R, enjoying the illegal booze, and gambling. Madden consolidated power, teaming up with Harris. Struggling to raise her family of three sons, including Jimmy, the author’s father, Hazel moved from Ohio back to Hot Springs in 1951 and got a job as a barmaid and, later, a “shill player” at a casino, gambling with the house’s money. In highly detailed, novelistic prose, Hill chronicles the rise of the power brokers and their ballot-stuffing control of local and state elections. In 1965, J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Robert Kennedy finally shut it all down. A captivating, shady story about massive, brazen corruption hiding in plain sight. (8 pages of b/w illustrations) Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.