Here's an online review from Bill Webb's I Love a Mystery Newsletter, which you can find here.
Reviews from BILL WEBB*
JANUARY - FEBRUARY REVIEWS
JAMES W. HALL*
JAMES W. HALL
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
*PHOTO CREDIT: MAGGIE EVANS