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 the 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 by 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 as Hunter's other classic thrillers.