Clint Hofer paints a vintage picture of 1993 St. Louis in his premier novel, The One That Got Away. When he introduces Terri Zimmerman, a beauty with a secret who returns to her childhood home in the city on the Mississippi River Delta, things are far from what they were when she lived above the family bakery in the city with her parents. Her old home is now the Stag Club, a neighborhood bar owned by Dinty Smith. Smith is an avid sportsman and bartender and is immediately smitten with Terri, who is less than half his age. Dinty spends an afternoon and evening regaling Terri of all that’s transpired in the town since her absence, and adds interest with stories of old St. Louis, predating them both. The main character of Dinty’s narrative is Anna Gross, locally beloved as the Lavender Lady. For good measure, Dinty throws in the occasional comment about local television icon and fisherwoman Barbara Grogan, who seems to share Dinty’s love of old school country music songs.
When Terri’s childhood friend Glen Wunsch and his eccentric grandmother, none other than the Lavender Lady herself, enter the bar for its best-known delicacy, brain sandwiches and drinks, Terri finds the matriarch’s name doesn’t hold a candle to her colorful past—a tapestry of speak-easy good times, bootlegging, mental illness, and tragedy. Anna, it turns out, is also quite the comedienne and harbors a bit of a flame for Terri’s host Dinty, who fans the spark much to Anna’s delight.
Just as Terri and Glen become cozy (to the absolute dismay of his girlfriend Sydney, a waitress at the Stag Club), spending time in the underground of St. Louis where the walls once knew the music of Anna’s 1920s speakeasy and enjoying Anna’s comeback appearance as a public figure on the Mississippi River’s fancy new casino riverboat, disaster ensues with the Great Mississippi Flood of 1993. The disaster throws the crew into tailspin, leaving Glen missing, Terri at a loss for her next move, and Dinty in the wake of it all.
Hofer weaves an intricate tale with humor, romance, local lore, and intrigue to boot, making The One That Got Away a must read for those who’ve ever been to the Gateway to the West, aka Mound City, or has aspirations of making the pilgrimage.