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.
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