Monday, February 25, 2008
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
THE BLUE DOOR
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.