BOOKLIST STARRED REVIEW
February 15, 2008
Thorn, the crime-solving Key Largo recluse, keeps taking chances, trying to expand his narrow comfort zone, but inevitably, those chances backfire, supporting his core belief that civilization should be avoided whenever possible. This time, he agrees to help a friend lead a fishing expedition into some off-the-map mangrove swamps, where the fish have never been touched by human hands. Nice idea, even if it means having to socialize with the paying guests, but as it turns out, it means much more than that: two of the guests, offspring of the recently murdered Abigail Bates, matriarch of one of Florida’s leading aristocratic families, claim that Thorn is a long-lost relative and ask for his help in finding the killer. Thorn’s not buying it until it becomes clear that the killer doesn’t need to be found: he (or she?) is on their tail and intends to kill them all. So begins a white-knuckle thriller that draws on our deepest fears. When Thorn must slip into the swampy muck in the pitch-black night to seek his adversary, our blood pressure soars the way it did when Gregory Peck climbed into the water for his showdown with Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear. But Hall, able to mix thrills with more subtle character concerns as well as any crime writer, combines the action with a fascinating exploration of Thorn’s sense of self, as he ponders what it means if he really is related to Florida’s bluest bloods. There is no such thing as a bad Thorn novel, but this is one of the best of an excellent bunch. — Bill Ott
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY ¦ DECEMBER 10, 2007 Hell’s Bay James W. Hall. St. Martin’s, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-35958-4
Edgar-winner Hall (Magic City) puts a Southern gothic twist on his latest Florida thriller to feature his iconic hero, Key Largo beach bum Thorn. While helping old flame Rusty set up a houseboat deep in the Everglades as a fishing spot for tourists, Thorn becomes entangled in the intrigue surrounding the murder of Abigail Bates, a wealthy land and mine owner. Soon after, one of Rusty’s first customers, John Milligan, confronts Thorn and claims to be Thorn’s uncle, making him face old family secrets possibly connected to Bates’s murder. Thorn’s detective friend, Sugarman, at Thorn’s request, starts making possibly dangerous inquiries into the crime.
The appeal of this multilayered novel lies in the authenticity of its evocation of the Everglades, along with a slow-burning plot that kicks into high gear when Thorn and Rusty’s guests, cut off from the outside world by sabotage, are hunted by Bates’s killers. The result is another compulsive page-turner from a master of suspense.
From Library Journal
BYLINE: Thomas L. Kilpatrick
SECTION: REVIEWS; Fiction; Pg. 83
Hall, James W. Hell’s Bay. Minotaur: St. Martin’s . Feb. 2008. c.320p. ISBN 978-0-312-35958-4 . $24.95. F
The enigmatic Thorn, antihero of nine previous Hall novels (including Magic City and Off the Chart ), finds himself embroiled in treachery that seriously disrupts his solitary life on the Florida Keys. The death of Abigail Bates, matriarch of the Bates family and head of Bates International, a family-owned business that has made billions strip mining phosphate in central Florida, reveals that Throne is a Bates grandson and heir to one-third of Abigail’s estate. This answers many nagging questions concerning Thorn’s history but introduces greedy family members, a revenge-seeking Iraqi war veteran, and a manipulative corporate lawyer who plots a deadly ambush in the Florida Everglades. Hall has effectively captured the beauty and fragility of the Florida wilderness and the environment-vs.-big-business issues that threaten Florida’s embattled ecosystem and parleyed them into a gripping story of adventure and suspense. Despite the testosterone-laden final pages, which stretches credibility as Hall physically and mentally overcomes a near-impossible situation, this will keep readers glued to their armchairs. For popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 10/1/07.]-Thomas L. Kilpatrick, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale