Publisher’s Weekly – Starred Review
Moral ambiguity seasons the violent action in Edgar-winner Hall’s outstanding 13th thriller featuring laconic loner Thorn (after 2011’s Dead Last). Thorn, who lives in the undeveloped backwoods of Key Largo and loathes the kind of hyperdevelopment that’s ruining Florida, is roused from his isolation to extricate his grown son, Flynn Moss, whose existence he only recently became aware of, from the Earth Liberation Front, a group of ecological terrorists who are planning to shut down a nearby atomic power plant. Thorn actually is sympathetic with ELF’s goals—but he doesn’t trust them. Meanwhile, FBI agent Frank Sheffield begins uncovering a plot to create a nuclear disaster that could annihilate Miami, while a beautiful female Homeland Security agent and a cocksure psycho who likes to play with electricity are working their own schemes. Hall shifts among the skillfully drawn characters, each uncertain of which ends justify extreme means, as the action races toward a literally explosive climax at the nuclear plant. The result is both thoughtful and white-knuckle tense. Agent: Richard Pine, Inkwell Management. (Dec.)
In Hall’s 13th Thorn novel, the go-it-alone Key Largo PI undergoes a crash course in parenthood when he discovers the grown son he barely knows belongs to an environmental activist group with terrorism on its agenda.
In targeting the Turkey Point nuclear power plant near the Florida Keys, the Earth Liberation Front originally had planned on a nonviolent action. But extremists in the group now have a spectacular demolition in mind, having acquired a superpowerful explosive. Taken prisoner by ELF on the remote island where they’re preparing the attack, Thorn is unable to talk his son, Flynn, into escaping with him. But to be around the boy in order to protect him, he convinces ELF that he supports their efforts. It helps that one of the group’s leaders is a woman for whom Thorn was a surrogate father when she was a troubled teen. Meanwhile, having been alerted to ELF’s presence by the logo they left inside the plant’s supposedly impenetrable security system, authorities, including FBI man Frank Sheffield, plan a “force-by-force” exercise in which agents take on the plant’s security forces with simulated weaponry. In the end, real shots are fired, Thorn’s sidekick, Sugarman, gets more of the action than he bargained for, and betrayals are revealed—the great sex Frank has with a psychologically scarred Homeland Security agent from his past proves to be skin-deep. As ever, Hall is in colorful command of his South Florida setting, occasionally editorializing on the harm developers are doing to it. Compared to other mystery writers, he plays things refreshingly low key, but he’s always in control, thriving on the setup as much as the payoff.
The plot of Going Dark doesn’t have the zip of some of Hall’s other Thorn books, but with its nicely observed characters and lively dialogue—and terrific sex scenes—it keeps readers turning the pages.
NUCLEAR MELTDOWN James W. Hall’s longtime protagonist, Thorn, grows more crotchety with each passing adventure. At this juncture of his life in Going Dark, he wants nothing more than to live off the grid, tying fancy and expensive fishing flies for sport fishermen. It is not to be, however, as Thorn is drawn into an eco-terrorist plot involving two people he cares about strongly: a young woman he befriended back when she was a troubled teenager, and his newly discovered son, the result of a fleeting liaison 20-some years back. It quickly becomes evident that the eco-warriors are operating on wildly different agendas: One faction wants only to demonstrate how woefully inadequate security measures are at a South Florida nuclear facility; the other is perfectly amenable to blowing the place sky-high, a disaster to outstrip both Chernobyl and Fukushima. It will be down to Thorn to put a monkey wrench into their plans and to save his son—no easy feat with his hands cuffed behind his back and a bullet in his thigh. Going Dark has cinematic action all the way through and a couple of fine surprises saved for the final few pages. Nicely done, indeed.
Tampa Bay Times
James W. Hall’s novels about would-be hermit and reluctant hero Thorn are always among the finest of Florida crime fiction. But Going Dark, the 13th in the series, is one of his very best, a breathless thrill ride with a brain — and heart. And the novel’s climactic scene is enough to give anyone who lives within a few hundred miles of Turkey Point nightmares. Even after that, Hall has a few surprises up his sleeve.
Thorn is a hermetic, fly-tying loner whose attempts to carve a separate peace for himself on Key Largo are only intermittently successful. Inevitably, he is drawn into somebody else’s fight, or, in a kind of reverse serendipity, simply walks into a mess that needs fixing. And when Thorn gets to fixing something, he doesn’t stop until the job’s done. Ah, but collateral damage, there’s the rub. Too often Thorn’s knight-errantry puts those he loves in danger. This time it’s a little different. The problem is Thorn’s newly discovered son (Dead Last, 2011), who has joined forces with a band of ecoterrorists who have designs on Florida’s largest nuclear-power plant. (The plan is supposed to be nonviolent, but a cell within the cell has other ideas.) Thorn’s only hope of extricating his son is to join up with the terrorists, which raises the bar on possible collateral damage to a new high. Hall is one of those rare thriller writers who can build character as he ratchets tension, who can do no-holds-barred action scenes with panache and, in the midst of bedlam, never lose sight of nuance. All those skills are on display here, as Hall assembles a full-bodied supporting cast whose stories hold our interest as much as Thorn’s attempt to save his son without helping to bring about a South Florida version of Chernobyl. A fine thriller on every level. –Bill Ott
Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered
Hall’s latest novel, titled Going Dark proves he’s one of the best genre writers working today.
Among the best [of Florida writers] is James W. Hall. . . . As the story spins forward, Hall builds the suspense and violence to what could literally be a breaking point for South Florida. Along the way, he treats the reader to gorgeous prose about the state’s natural bounty, advances his development of Thorn, supplies multiple shocks and proves that not all of Florida’s reptiles slither on their bellies.