“In Edgar-winner Hall’s compelling 12th novel featuring Florida PI Daniel Thorn (after 2010’s Silencer), Thorn mourns the sudden death of his new wife, Rusty Stabler, in typically idiosyncratic fashion-by burning his possessions. Then Buddha Hilton, the 19-year-old sheriff of Starkville, Okla., arrives in Key Largo to ask for Thorn’s help. Rusty’s aunt, Michaela Stabler, who was Buddha’s adoptive mother, has been stabbed to death in Starkville; Rusty’s Miami Herald obituary was placed beside Michaela’s body. The juxtaposition of clipping and corpse mimics a TV drama, Miami Ops, which employs the twin sons of the obituary’s writer, April Moss, whom Thorn knew briefly years before. Is Michaela’s killing a stunt designed to save a failing show or an act with a murkier purpose? As Thorn attempts to untangle fact from fiction, a revelation about his past changes his life. As always, Hall combines crisp prose, solid psychology, sardonic humor, and glimpses of an edgy, fast-changing Florida into a suspenseful and satisfying whole.”
Hall always has made it easy to want to get lost with Thorn as he wanders Florida, and this 12th outing continues those high standards. “Dead Last” works as an exciting detective novel but also provides an insightful look at grief and rising above pain, and proves the adage that when one door shuts, another opens. The usually laconic Thorn is a fury-filled machine whose grief makes him ready to slash out at anyone in his way. The calm Buddha, who bears the physical marks of horrendous abuse as a child, sees through Thorn and forces him to deal with his grief. The scene where Buddha passes on her observations to Thorn about his personality is an inspiring moment full of humor and truth. A surprising plot twist signals a change for Thorn that he may not be equipped to handle. “Dead Last’s” solid story and characters who continue to grow show why Hall, who retired in 2009 as a literature professor at Florida International University, ranks at the top echelon of Florida mystery writers.