Friday, February 29, 2008

Books and Books

Doing a reading at Books and Books tonight. This makes twenty times I've been at Mitch Kaplan's store in Coral Gables.

Mitch practically invented Miami's book culture. Between his instrumental work to begin the Miami Book Fair, one of the nation's largest book events, and his tireless work on his own expanding bookstore business, Mitch has supported south Florida writers like no one else. He's given us a stage, and given the community a spot on the national book circuit, so we can see and hear the best writers of America. Before Mitch started out in the early eighties, Miami was considered a cultural wasteland. No one in the publishing world of New York considered Miami a worthwhile stop on the book tour.

Now it's a must-see, must-go-to city, and Books and Books is the store where the great majority of writers of note show up.

In the book community of south Florida, we're incredibly lucky to have Mitch and his store. It's really the literary watering hole for the region.

More here.

Right up there with The Strand, Powells,Tattered Cover, Elliot Bay,City Lights, and the Bookstore in Blytheville, Books and Books is one of America's finest stores.

Thanks to Mitch.

Books & Books :

265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, Fla.,

Some bookstores are crammed with serpentine rows of dusty shelves aching with books — but that's not what you'll find at Books & Books, which has three locations in addition to its Coral Gables flagship. "Our Coral Gables store is built around a courtyard in a Mediterranean-style building and our South Beach store is in a gorgeous Art Deco building," said owner Mitchell Kaplan. The store also has branches in an upscale mall in Bal Harbour and on Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean. Books & Books hosts 70 author events a month, and the stores' specialties include art, architecture and regional literature, including books about Cuba and Latin America. Both the Coral Gables and Miami Beach stores also have full-service restaurants.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Here's a Fun One

John Hood, that man about town (Miami and all of South Florida) just reviewed Hell's Bay for And here's the opening of the article, a tease:

Fishing Expedition

In James W. Hall’s Hell’s Bay, somebody’s gonna get bit

By John Hood

Here’s the setup: An iron-hard dame and her recalcitrant ex-lover pilot a tricked-out houseboat into the thick of the Everglades’ still surprisingly primordial 10,000 islands. On the craft: the dame’s slow-witted brother (who happens to be a master chef); a blowhard captain of industry and his cantankerous daughter (who happen to be at each others’ throats) and a big-city travel writer and her large-mouthed lensman (who happen to not give a shit about anybody but themselves).

Sounds idyllic, right?


This is James W. Hall we’re talkin’ ’bout — a cat whose tales are far from idyllic. And this is Hell’s Bay (St. Martin’s, $24.95), the place where the swamp secretes a very special something.

Read the rest of it here.

Broward County Library

The folks at Broward County Library are incredible. They have an enormous number of original programs. You can see some of the events, upcoming and past, right here.

Eileen McNally and Tara Zimmerman spearhead a great team of people who are keeping the book community in Ft. Lauderdale and Broward energized. Here's a short clip of Eileen from an event I did last night at the Main Library.

I've got two more upcoming events with the Broward Library folks later in the month. One is the Big Read, a discussion of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, with Les Standiford and Barbara Parker. And another is The Night of the Literary Feasts, a very large affair with lots of writers.


Forties in Miami today. Everyone is bundling up.

Okay, so we're a little wimpy down here in paradise.

As that old saying goes: There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.

Well, here's a place you can find some:

Even the cavaliers are cuddling for warmth:

Here's One You Might Miss Otherwise

Here's an online review from Bill Webb's I Love a Mystery Newsletter, which you can find here.

Reviews from BILL WEBB*



St. Martin ’s Minotaur February, 2008

Nice guys don’t just finish last, their friends and lovers often wind up dead. That’s reality in the world of Thorn, James W. Hall’s loyal, loner, nice-guy fishing guide who nobody in their right mind would want to stand anywhere near.

HELL’S BAY is the 10th installment in what is fast becoming the defining series for modern Florida crime fiction. Such a discussion invariably dredges up comparisons to John D. MacDonald’s seminal hero, Travis McGee, but while Hall may have drawn inspiration from his predecessor, in truth he may one day surpass him in the canons of crime fiction. Indeed, it might already be the case. The man with one name, Thorn, with no past after his parents died in a car wreck on the way home from the hospital with their baby boy, an aging beach bum fisherman who knows South Florida like the wrinkles of his own palm and can barely afford to buy himself a beer, this unlikely character has evolved into a metaphor for Florida itself: beaten, battered and badly used, but still alive and still fighting back.

HELL’S BAY finds Thorn hiding from the world. He has lost yet another love, yet another quirky friend is dead because of Thorn, it just seems better to hide and do what he does best, sit on his porch overlooking the Atlantic and tie fishing flies. Indeed, it has become something of a running joke with Thorn’s (remaining) friends that it’s not healthy to be anywhere near him. The guilt weighs heavily on his soul.

An old flame, however, wants him to get out again, come back to life. Ridge, the only female fishing guide on that stretch of coast, has a dream to build a luxury pontoon boat that would take vacationers deep into some unknown lakes hidden in the Everglades . She has commissioned an aerial map of the area that has never been compiled before and, if she is right, there are un-fished lakes just waiting to be explored. It’s a lure that not even Thorn can resist. He signs on as first mate is excited again for the first time in a long time. Naturally, this is a very bad idea.

The first passengers are...let’s say people Thorn never knew existed, much less expected to meet. From the very beginning there are ominous signs that this trip isn’t going to be a joy-ride.

The recipe for one classic thriller contains the following ingredients: Four passengers, Thorn and Ridge as crew, two assassins, one dead old lady, Thorn’s best friend Sugarman investigating her drowning, a black, female sheriff of questionable motives, more Machiavellian twists than even Machiavelli could have dreamed up and, most importantly, one absolutely brilliant writer to bring it all together. It’s a typical Thorn novel.

Hall began life as a poet and it has long since blended seamlessly into his work. But unlike other, unnamed, southern writers whose prose is beautiful but who write the same book over and over, Hall seems obsessed with re-inventing this character with each book. And be warned, reader: this is the book where you learn everything about Thorn that you ever wanted to know. Miss it at your own peril. The same advice holds true if you have never picked up a Hall book before because, in truth, there simply isn’t anybody out there who does it better than James W. Hall. Maybe you could argue there are others as good, but there is nobody better. HELL’S BAY simply reinforces what his fans already knew.
- Bill Webb

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Miami Herald Review

Posted on Tue, Feb. 26, 2008
Phosphate's at center of explosive plot
James W. Hall. St. Martin's. 320 pages. $24.95.

Between the coasts of Florida lies a land of rich, little-known and sometimes violent history, a land of cattle ranches and phosphate mines held and worked for generations by a few families. This land and these people are the driving force behind James W. Hall's newest thriller, which features Hall's recurrent hero Thorn.

Abigail Bates, matriarch of an old Florida family with vast holdings in land and phosphate, is murdered while paddling the Peace River, drowned by a woman waiting in ambush. We know right off the bat who did it and why. The killer is a tough and skilled veteran of the Iraq war, a widow whose son is dying from the same type of cancer that killed her husband, a cancer caused by exposure to the giant phosphate slag mountain that dominates their small town. What this all has to do with Thorn is the life blood of this fast-paced novel.

As Hall's readers know, the laconic Thorn is happiest sitting on his porch in the Keys tying flies, and that is where we initially find him. He is reluctantly drawn into a scheme concocted by on-again off-again girlfriend Rusty, a local fishing guide, to build and outfit a houseboat for luxurious fishing excursions in upper Florida Bay and the Everglades. Their first customers are a father and daughter, John and Mona Milligan, and a travel writer and her photographer. But there's much more to the booking than just rich folks out for a unique fishing experience. John Milligan is Abigail Bates' son. As the boat moves up Florida Bay, Milligan spills a whopping big secret that invests Thorn in the investigation.

A healthy suspension of disbelief is required to accept all the converging premises, but once that's done, the story takes off. The narrative weaves back and forth between Thorn and the soon-to-be besieged houseboat contingent, the killer and her son, and Thorn's investigator pal Sugarman, who is pursuing the real story of Abigail's drowning. What Sugarman finds gives heft and nuance to the motivation and character of Sasha Olsen, the driven killer.

Hall's ability to evoke the deep, primeval essence of the Bay and Glades -- the water, air, wildlife, feral excitement -- are unmatched, and the life and death struggle that ensues is heightened and set apart by a heavy ambivalence. Thorn and the others are fighting for their lives, and we're pulling for them, but the tension is of a grander variety because we also see the story from the killer's perspective. She's way around the bend, but she's got a legitimate cause. And when all the mayhem subsides -- sharks and gators join the arsenal of high-powered weaponry and a reciprocating saw -- her resignation is unusually moving and darn near poetic.
Maybe no place has the stark dichotomy of Florida. Forty miles from Miami, the glow still visible, you're in the middle of an ancient and dangerous landscape that gives no quarter. Throw in the most dangerous predator on the planet with an axe to grind, and you've got all the ingredients for a thoroughly indulgent and hardy stew of a thriller. With his unerring sense of place, and a frighteningly sure grasp of the dark side, nobody cooks it up like Hall.
Sam Harrison is a writer in Ormond Beach.


© 2008 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Washington Post

Patrick Anderson had some nice things to say about Hell's Bay in today's Washington Post. You can see the whole article here.

Evocative Scenes Of the Crime

By Patrick Anderson,
whose "The Triumph of the Thriller" has been nominated for a 2008 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for criticism
Monday, February 25, 2008; C02


By James W. Hall

St. Martin's Minotaur. 306 pp. $24.95


By David Fulmer

Harcourt. 325 pp. $25

James W. Hall and David Fulmer are talented crime writers, Hall the winner of an Edgar award, Fulmer of a Shamus. Their work is distinguished not only by intelligence and passion but also by an exceptional sense of place.
For Hall the place is Florida. When his trouble-prone fishing-boat captain, Thorn, denounces corporate thugs "with giant shovels or derricks and mile-long drills" who are busy raping and plundering the state he loves, he could be channeling John D. MacDonald's immortal Travis McGee. Indeed, Thorn seems a conscious tribute to McGee, although McGee was the more dashing hero and the McGee books are more lighthearted, more pure fun. This is probably intended, and perhaps inevitable. Hall started publishing in 1987, not long after MacDonald's death ended the McGee series, and things have gotten worse, environmentally speaking, since then.

In "Hell's Bay," Thorn, his pal Sugarman and Thorn's sometime girlfriend Rusty are pitted against a family of billionaires whose firm, Bates International, carries out massive phosphate mining that is polluting waterways in central Florida. At the outset, we see the Bates family's 87-year-old matriarch murdered -- dragged underwater and drowned in a stream her company is polluting. Her killer, Sasha Olsen, is a formidable Iraq war veteran who blames the Bates company for the lung cancer that killed her husband and has her teenage son near death. What's not clear is whether she acted alone or in cahoots with someone else, perhaps the dead woman's scheming son or enigmatic granddaughter, John and Mona Milligan, both of whom hunger for control of the family conglomerate.

Hall puts Thorn and Rusty aboard Rusty's new, million-dollar houseboat for an excursion in the Everglades, with both suspect Milligans among the paying customers. This luxury cruise soon becomes the fishing trip from Hell, as a well-armed Sasha arrives to pick off her unarmed prey. An exciting confrontation follows as Thorn battles to save himself and the others from crazed Sasha and her shadowy allies. Along the way, Hall expounds on such topics as the joys of creating bonefish flies, the ecological importance of mangrove roots, the toxic horrors of phosphate mining and the challenges of going one-on-one with a bull shark. "Hell's Bay" offers a tasty mix of rip-roaring adventure, caustic social commentary and lyrical appreciation of the beauty that still exists in Florida, despite everything.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sunday Cartoons

A Poem for Sunday

A Measuring Worm

by Richard Wilbur

This yellow striped green

Caterpillar, climbing up

The steep window screen,

Constantly (for lack

Of a full set of legs) keeps

Humping up his back.

It’s as if he sent

By a sort of semaphore

Dark omegas meant

To warn of Last Things.

Although he doesn’t know it,

He will soon have wings,

And I, too, don’t know

Toward what undreamt condition

Inch by inch I go.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

How Structure Causes Discovery

Back when I started writing Hell's Bay, I had two ideas competing for my attention. One of them had to do with the incredible damage phosphate mining was causing around the Peace River. As the photos above indicate, this has been an issue in Florida for almost a century. But little attention has been paid to the ecological damage until recently. That was clearly a subject I felt worthy of my attention.

This is a photo of the Peace River taken a few years ago. It's a pretty place, and a crucial part of the water system for the southwest Gulf section of Florida.

But I also wanted to write a story about an incredible journey I'd taken on a houseboat into the Everglades. The isolation, the wildlife, the extraoridnary scenery. It seemed like a perfect spot for very bad things to happen. Something in the general vein of James Dickey's Deliverance. Wildnerness trip goes terribly wrong.

Unfortunately, these two stories didn't seem to have much to do with each other. And I struggled for quite a while to find a way to link the two. If I'd been less stubborn, I would have just abandoned one or the other of them.

I finally settled on a solution that grew naturally out of a third thing I wanted to do in this novel--that is, to reveal more about Thorn's past. I didn't really know that much about Thorn's history when I started out this novel, but in the process of trying to weave these two very disparate storylines together, I discovered who Thorn's parents were and why the houseboat journey and phosphate mining were inextricably linked.

That's how I work. I discover stuff by letting my whims battle it out with my rational mind. It's not always fun or easy, but it's never dull.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The End of the Story as we Know It?

Interesting article in recent Vanity Fair on the radical changes in storytelling. Read it here.

The idea that "the new media" is altering the way stories are told is provocative. I can remember back in the sixties when I first began to pay attention to the literary environment the discussion centered around "the death of the novel." This was the era of meta-fiction, John Barth, Robert Coover, Donald Barthleme, Brautigan, Vonnegut and many others. Also known as "fabulists." No plot, no character, no reliance on traditional realistic techniques. I fell under their spell for years and during those years I produced some pretty strange and pretty worthless writing. A few of my better stories written during that era were published in a collection called Paper Products.

It's true that scholars and cultural critics have been claiming that the novel form was in its death throes almost since it was born.

But personally I'm a little more concerned about the future of the novel form, and about the traditional film story than I've ever been before. Mainly because the recent cultural changes seem to be of a whole different order. A new generation (that I see in my college classes) are rewiring their brains with X-boxes and the Internet and the fast-cutting, no-attention span video gaming discussed in the Vanity Fair article.

Could we be witnessing the last generation of novel readers? Or is this apocalyptic vision just a recycling of a long term literary uneasiness that has always existed just below the thin skin of readers and writers?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I came across this interview the other day. I'd forgotten I ever answered these questions, but it reminded me how much I liked writing that book. It's not Thorn, and it's a bit different than the others, but it's one that has a lot of special meaning to me as the intervewer gets at.

That's Barbara Stanwyck--who plays a role in the book, along with other wild animals.

Tyger, Tyger:

Sacramento Bee

Another nice review, this one from California. You can see the complete review with photos and stuff right here.

What is it about Florida that lures writers?
By Allen Pierleoni -
Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Story appeared in SCENE section, Page E1

James W. Hall, showing off a small tarpon he caught, then released, on Florida Bay, often writes about "a certain kind of character I knew ... from years of living in the Keys: 'Don't tread on me, I don't want to be connected to the grid, I came here to reinvent myself.' "

How about some tension in the tropics? There's plenty of it in the many Florida-based suspense thrillers that show up each year, as loyal readers worldwide have long known. Consider Florida's unique locale and twisted history – and all those ecological issues.

This subgenre likely has its roots in the 21-volume Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald, published between 1964 and 1985. In more recent years, the wacky novels of the high-profile Carl Hiaasen have blended ironic humor with Elmore Leonard-style losers and a certain style of eco-diatribe.

Maybe it's time to get James W. Hall on your radar. Hall, 60, has a doctorate in creative writing and literature, and has taught the two at Florida International University in Miami for 35 years. Along the way, he has published three volumes of poetry and nearly 20 books of fiction and nonfiction.

He's best known for his 10-title series starring Thorn, a taciturn beach bum who lives on the Florida Keys. Book by book, plot by plot, Thorn beats the long odds and bests the villains. One of those books, "Blackwater Sound," won the 2003 Shamus Award for Best P.I. Novel, beating out heavyweights George Pelecanos and Laura Lippman.

The Thorn series also touches on the ecological crises that contribute to the ongoing destruction of Florida by developers and corrupt industries.

In the latest adventure, "Hell's Bay" (St. Martin, $24.95, 320 pages), Thorn does his ex-girlfriend a favor by helping with the maiden voyage of her luxury houseboat. It's the centerpiece of her new business, which specializes in taking high-paying guests for weeklong trips to remote fishing areas in Florida Bay, near the Everglades. Of course, things quickly go adrift.

I caught up with Hall by phone at Disney's Vero Beach Resort, during his recent book tour.

Q: Thorn would never stay at a Disney property.

A: I know, people keep reminding me of that.

Q: Please describe Thorn.

A: He's evolved, but the original idea was Henry David Thoreau with a .357 Magnum and a dark past. He wants to be left alone and sit out beside his Walden Pond and watch the light change color on the ocean. The psychological struggle he goes through between being engaged in the world vs. being disengaged – that's something I very much identify with.

He makes his own rules and applies them as he sees fit. I've had to kill just about everybody he's ever been associated with, just to get him involved in things.

He's based on a certain kind of character I knew pretty well from years of living in the Keys: "Don't tread on me, I don't want to be connected to the grid, I came here to reinvent myself."

Q: This is one of the few times you've had a female villain in a Thorn novel.

A: Sasha's MO is to hold her victims under water and drown them. "How long can you hold your breath?" she asks them before she takes them under.

When I create bad guys, my attempt is to scare myself. What is it in the world right now that's most horrifying to me? It's that person who brings a sense of moral righteousness to what they do. They don't care anymore about themselves. They're doing something for a purpose that's beyond themselves, almost in a military, heroic sense. They're suicidal. That's the new evil in the world. In some sense it all flows from 9/11.

Q: "Hell's Bay" reveals some appalling details about the phosphate industry in Florida. In fact, many of your books address the rape of the state's environment, but I don't recall you ever being preachy.

A: The challenge is not to get on the soapbox. As much as I like John D. MacDonald, Randy Wayne White and Carl Hiaasen, they're a little guilty of the soapbox thing. I try to create a sense of place through lyricism and feather in the hard information as subtly as I can.

My publisher and my agent don't know how to sell me. I used to be a poet and now I'm a mystery writer, and who gives a (darn) about that. The promotion shtick they were trying to force on me this time was I'm this environmental writer and an activist. Not true. I just said no.

Continue reading on next page

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Green With Irony

Biofuels aren't the answer according to the guys that have studied it.

Then there's global warming. If you were hoping John McCain would be better than Bush on this crucial issue, think again.

Don't look now, the tide's coming in. For good.

Miami Boat Show

What a fantastic time I had with Chris and Wendi and the Hell's Bay Boatworks folks at the Miami Boat Show last weekend. We sold a lot of books and met a steady stream of great people. I got to sit in a leather chair in the shade, surrounded by the sleek and gorgeous shallow draft skiffs that Stan and the rest of the Hell's Bay people have crafted. It was truly a unique event. Plus I got to visit with an old friend, Dean Travis Clark, of Sport Fishing magazine. This is Dean and an exuberant woman named Martha.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tampa Friends of Library

Thanks to Sandy and all the great folks at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in downtown Tampa for sponsoring an event (with great food) featuring yours truly. Some absolutely wonderful camera obscura photos of the early days of Tampa and the surrounding area are on display.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Here's a moment at the end of my brilliant talk at Inkwood Books in Tampa--the very best independent bookstore in this corner of the galaxy. Carla and Leslie have no equals.

Catching up on the Blog

Home from the road for a while, so I'm going to try to catch up a little on the blog.

Here's a nice review from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, written by the excellent Les Roberts:

Award-winning author James W. Hall takes a fascinating turn with Hell's Bay (Minotaur, 306 pp., $24.95). His reclusive series protagonist, Thorn, leads a fishing party into the Florida mangroves and unknown lakes of Hell's Bay, where he discovers his clients, the obscenely wealthy John Milligan and his adopted daughter Mona, are actually his closest relatives. What's more, Milligan's mother, Thorn's grandmother, has been murdered.

The killer is out on the lake, waiting for them - one of the scariest villains I've ever encountered. Even more fascinating is that Thorn has to face the Milligans' haunted secrets while attempting to save his own life. "Hell's Bay" is one of the more personal crime novels, and Hall writes it as well as anything he's ever done.

And just to spice up this post, here's a shot of Jim and Jim. Hall and Born. W. and O. This was taken in Circle Books, the great store in Sarasota (St. Armand's Key). Jim had a signing just after mine. His fans all seem to wear Gator T-shirts and have shifty eyes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Vero Beach Tornado Watch

Well, the hardy folks of Vero Beach braved a tornado watch to attend my event at Vero Beach Book Center. Not the best weather, but I'll gladly sacrifice a few book sales for some rain in our parched part of the world. Great turnout anyway, great bookstore, great staff.

Here's me reading a line about the summer heat in Florida--and then praising my own writing, sort of.

Hell's Bay--Miami Sierra Club

Went to speak to the Miami chapter of the Sierra Club. You can learn more about this great (and rowdy) group and join them for terrific adventures by going here.

Unfortunately the video I took was too dark to post. So here's a lobster I saw in the Keys instead. Looks like it might be related to Tim Dorsey somehow.
(Tim's latest tour de farce is Atomic Lobster.) This one does look a bit radioactive:

Also, I'm including a link here to a video about a journey to Hell's Bay. A fishing trip taken by my friend Geoff. A day in the life of an Islamorada fishing guide.

Thanks again to the great Sierra Club folks, whose hard work and organization holds the line as best it can against the forces of darkness.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Fish House

I have lots of favorite restaurants in the Keys--Sundowners, Snappers, Ballyhoos, Craig's. All great places. But I've been coming to the Fish House for thirty years. It hasn't changed much in all that time. Here's a quick shot from the vantage point of the bar (where else?).

And here's the outside of the joint, and a short, choppy walk to my rental car. I'm calling it the White Whale-- (the ocean roar sound in the background is not the surf--it's Sunday traffic along the Overseas Highway)

A couple of nice days in paradise

Went to Hooked on Books in Islamorada and Moore Books in Key Largo. Wonderful turnouts at both places. And it's always great to spend time in the Keys.

Here's a quickie film of some of the rowdies at Moore Books, including legendary fishing guide Stu Apte.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Murder on the Beach

Great evening with Joanne and the other folks at Murder on the Beach. An excellent store in Delray Beach, right off the main drag. You can order signed copies of all the Florida authors and lots more here. It was my first stop on the tour and I tested out my new material. This smart and willing group kindly helped me hone the presentation. They suggested various audience participation concepts, including a chorus of "hot damn!" when I said something they particularly liked. The evening was filled with hot damns! and laughter. Great spot. View the video here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Book Tour

The day before I set out for the journey to promote Hell's Bay I had to visit my dermatologist.

A very nice lady who wields a mean scalpel.

So anyway, the Hell's Bay book tour has now become the Sunscreen Book Tour.

But then as Jack showed us long ago, it's possible to still be dapper with a bandage the size of a toad attached to your nose.

As my agent was quick to point out,
"You've never been one to trade on your looks."

I'll be collecting stories about facial injuries and plastic surgery, so have yours ready.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Another nice one

Here's another nice review.

Oh, yes, there's that ecstatic, unsuspecting look...just before the curtain pulls back, and...

Geoff Colmes

Hell's Bay is dedicated to Geoff Colmes, my friend, and a great backcountry guide out of Islamorada.

This is Geoff:

And these are photos of the "Mothership" a custom-designed shallow draft houseboat that plays a very large role in the new book.

And here's a slightly more ominous view:

You can learn more about Geoff and the Mothership here

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The tour begins

Okay, so here we go. I've got my GPS loaded and ready with all the bookstores and hotels on my trip. I've got my bags packed, my munchies in a cooler. I'm ready. Now St. Martin's Press, my wonderful publisher, is letting me choose which rental car I'd like to use to circumnavigate Florida.

My choices are:

The Green One: (which is actually red)

Or the greener one: (which is actually pink)

Or big Mama: (If I select this one, I'll have to forgo my advance on the next novel)

Or option number 4: Be frugal and walk in a new pair of shoes.

I guess it'll be doing number 2 (so to speak).

I'm going to be making home movies on this trip and will be posting them on the blog (so I can remember what happened later). So if you're planning to come to an event, please prepare something witty to say so I can show the world what brilliant fans I have.

I know, I know, asking you to be witty is a little stressful. But you can do it. I know you can.

First Newspaper Review

Time to let loose the blood-crazed shoppers:

Oline Cogdill at the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel likes it. It's always great to get off to this kind of start. There might be one or two more reviews this weekend, but I'm expecting most of them next weekend. But who knows? With a book coming out on a Tuesday, the reviews could be scattered over two weekends, with some trickling out weeks from now.

But your job (if you choose to accept it) is to buy the book immediately. Make those registers ring.

Sometimes my fans can get a little ROWDY. Tranquilo day is coming.

Book review: Hell's Bay by James W. Hall
Oline H. Cogdill | Mystery columnist
February 3, 2008

Hell's Bay. James W. Hall. Minotaur/St. Martin's Press. $24.95. 320 pp.

Thorn has a first name. He also has a middle name. And he has a family.

These revelations about a character normally would be commonplace, but through nine novels Thorn's lack of a first name has reinforced his solitary nature, connected more to his environment than to humans.

Longtime readers of James W. Hall's fascinating series will relish these bits of trivia about the quasi beach bum of Key Largo revealed in Hell's Bay. Hall uses Thorn's mysterious history to build a solid, action-packed story about eco-terrorists, the past's pull and family ties.

Hell's Bay epitomizes Hall's ongoing ecological theme as he explores nature in all its glory as well as the destruction that man causes the environment — in this case phosphate mining in Florida — and, ultimately, himself.

What turns into Hell's Bay starts as a secret fishing spot so hidden that man has probably never visited. The cruise to this remote area along the Peace River in southwestern Florida will be idyllic and will launch a new business specializing in wealthy fishermen thrilled by the idea of the hidden.

Thorn is basically going along for the ride, helping his old girlfriend Rusty set up a houseboat that will snag an elite clientele. But the first customers are a little more interested in Thorn than fishing. John Milligan, accompanied by his daughter, Mona, not only shocks Thorn by calling him by his given names, but also has proof that Thorn is his nephew. Thorn knew little more than his parents' names, having been orphaned when he was hours old and raised by foster parents.

But Thorn doesn't quite trust this reunion, especially when he learns he is one of the heirs to a major fortune since the family matriarch — and Thorn's grandmother — recently was murdered. And of all things for Thorn to inherit — an estate that made billions strip mining phosphate in central Florida.

The family's environmental sins haven't gone unnoticed. The fishing party is soon stalked by Sasha Olsen, whose husband died of cancer related to the phosphate and whose brilliant son is dying from the same kind of disease.

Sasha has come to the pristine wilderness armed for war; Thorn has no weapons; the final showdown will force Thorn to use his ingenuity and knowledge of nature.

Taking place almost entirely in the Florida wild, the Hell's Bay's setting is both expansive and claustrophobic, showcasing the state from the interior's "rugged dignity" to the air smelling of "snakes and damp mud and an occasional gust of a sharp, insistent citrus scent … of a teenage boy's first cologne."

Hell's Bay also allows Hall to explore the roots of this series as the novel echoes back to Under Cover of Daylight, the author's 1987 debut. That critically acclaimed first novel set the tone for a series in which each sequel has surpassed the previous for its depth of character, scenery and plot.

Hall has a reputation for creating frightening villains, and Sasha ranks high. An ordinary woman who has lost the only two people she loved, Sasha doesn't care who she hurts or what happens to her. That makes her more lethal than even a paid assassin. Hall, a literature and creative writing professor at Florida International University for 34 years, knows how to make evil ooze off the page.

With Hell's Bay, Hall delivers a true rip-roaring adventure.
Meet the author
James W. Hall will discuss and sign Hell's Bay at the following venues:

7 p.m. Friday at Murder on the Beach, 273 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach, 561-279-7790.

Feb. 11 during the Sierra Club meeting at the Sailing Club, 2990 S. Bayshore Drive, Coconut Grove. Event opens at 7 p.m. Free and open to the public. For information, call Ken Smith at 305-801-6876 or visit

7 p.m. Feb. 27 for a Conversation With ... at the Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call the Florida Center for the Book at 954-357-7401 for free reservations.

8 p.m. Feb. 29 at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, 305-442-4408.
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