Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Books and Books: Twenty-five Years and It Never Gets Old

Mitch Kaplan gave me a wonderful introduction last night. There is, as Mitch discovered, another James W. Hall, a former military guy who turned spy against the US, and is now serving time in prison. Apparently some websites on the Internet have conflated the spy and me. Pretty funny.

Mitch reminded the audience that he's been in the independent book business for 30 plus years and he and I have been doing this song and dance for most of those. Thank god for that.

The photos of the event were taken by my friend Michael Stern. Sternphotos.com. Check out his amazing website. He's a great nature photographer, specializing in Florida. But occasionally he'll come indoors and snap the wildlife running around in the stacks.

This is Mitch Kaplan and me sharing the podium.

And here I am promoting my short story collection. Available for your Kindle or Nook.

Here are some interesting readers getting their books signed. I've got great fans. So smart, so funny. They don't let me get away with much.

Here's some of the audience. This shot taken by Evelyn, my lovely wife, who had one of the funniest lines of the night.

Another shot by Evelyn. Taken on the iPhone, so it's kind of blurry. So many friends, and neighbors came out on a Monday night to share a couple of hours with us. It was a great party.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Couldn't Have Written A Better Review Myself

James W. Hall is dead-on with Thorn’s latest case

WEEK OF NOVEMBER 24-30, 2011 www.FloridaWeekly.com FLORIDA WEEKLY

■ “Dead Last,” by James W. Hall.

Minotaur Books. 304 pages. $25.99.
A new book by James W. Hall is something to put away for a special treat: something to look forward to. But inevitably, I push other things aside so that I can dig into what will no doubt be a most pleasurable experience. I’m addicted to following the exploits of Thorn, a character at once unique and everyman-ish, spontaneous and guarded, outrageous and surprisingly disciplined.

The Thorn we meet in “Dead Last” is processing grief. Cancer has taken the woman he loves. Mr. Hall’s description of Thorn’s ritualized mourning, which includes burning many of his personal possessions, is dead-on accurate. Thorn is a man who carries little material baggage. Watching him strip even further down to essentials, a kind of excessive and half-mad cleansing, reveals his nature with dramatic economy.

As ever, Thorn’s fate presents him with a case to solve and a wrong to right. Uh, better change those nouns to plural.

How’s this for a plot premise? A Miami-based television cast and crew staffs a low-rated cable series named “Miami Ops.” A running plot line involves a serial killer who, outfitted in zentai suit (a skin-tight garment that covers the entire body) selects victims from hints picked up in newspaper obituaries. The killer deduces locations, weapons and other details from the obituaries as well.

The spandex-clad perpetrator is cunning and ruthless, but the series is about to be dropped by the network. The scriptwriter, Sawyer Moss, knows a lot about obituary writing because his mother, April, is the obituary writer for the Miami Herald. Sawyer’s twin brother, Flynn, is one of the show’s stars. The other is Dee Dee Dollimore, a gorgeous actress hungry for fame who is Sawyer’s girlfriend. Dee Dee’s father (and former abuser), Gus, runs the show.

Now the series seems to have inspired a copycat — a real serial killer who imitates the methodology of “Miami Ops.”

One of April’s obituaries is about Rusty Stabler, Thorn’s deceased wife. Details in the obit lead the real-life killer to murder Rusty’s aunt, who lives in a small town in Oklahoma. Since Thorn is mentioned in the obituary, it doesn’t take long for the Starkville, Okla., sheriff, a very young woman named Buddha Hilton, to visit Miami, tear Thorn away from his beloved Key Largo and involve him in her investigation.

Buddha is a fascinating minor character. Only 19, she is a self-made professional with skill, courage and shrewd perceptions. Like Dee Dee a victim of parental abuse as a young girl, Buddha would seem to have a bright future. She accomplishes much in a short period of time to further her investigation into crimes that become part of an FBI case worked by Thorn’s sometimes buddy Frank Sheffield.

However, Buddha’s future is cut short by the zentai killer. Thorn now has one more death to avenge, and his own life is in jeopardy. There is an unsettling glee among some of the “Miami Ops” gang that the copycat news might just spike the ratings and save the series. Is one of them behind these killings?

“Dead Last” is gorgeously complicated by the network of relationships the author designs. Perhaps the most important is that Thorn and April have to sort out the meaning of their youthful one night fling so many years ago. Awkwardly reacquainted by their involvement in this investigation, they cautiously try to make sense of it and of each other. That old and brief attraction haunts them and eventually provides the reader with an astonishing revelation.

“Dead Last” provides an abundance of violent action, excruciating suspense, brilliant characterization (check out April’s mother, Garvey) and precise and evocative delineations of Miami neighborhoods. It also offers a vivid exploration of the psychotic elements let loose in contemporary society as reflected in, perhaps nourished by, today’s morally hazardous popular culture. Thorn is by now a monument: solid and substantial, a bit tarnished and a convenient target for low-flying birds.

And Mr. Hall is in the vanguard of those who have erased the line between literary fiction and genre fiction.

Want more James W. Hall? “Over Exposure,” a new collection of his fine short fiction, is available as a Kindle
eBook for a mere $3.99. ■

philJASON pkjason@comcast.net

Murder on the Beach

The book tour kicked off officially with a stop at Murder on the Beach in Delray Beach, Florida. A wonderful mystery store just off the main thoroughfare in Delray. The town itself has been booming in the past few years. A wonderful array of restaurants, boutiques, art shops and cool sidewalk ambiance. Like South Beach for baby boomers. A little more restrained, but hip.

Had a good turnout, including James O. Born and Wallace Stroby, two fine writers and friends who took the time from very busy schedules to show their support. Nice guys.

And the book goddesses at the store were wonderful, serving wine and snacks. Signed a lot of books for their online orders and then did my talk and answered questions. Some good questions from the audience. One in particular: who were my influences?

Here's what I said:

I was influenced in the beginning by a set of writers, all inspiring me in different ways.

John D. MacDonald
His love of Florida and his defense of the state against the assault of developers and scam artists. Though oddly for one who loved Florida so deeply, his ability to capture the feel of the place itself was pretty limited.

James Lee Burke
Burke's poetic and lyrical creation of Louisiana, the climate, the flora and fauna, and the landscape in general was at the beginning and is now a major influence.

Ross MacDonald
Lew Archer, his series sleuth, almost always solved crimes that were rooted in the past. Frequently 20 years is the time frame. Something bad happened twenty years ago and it's still reverberating into a current crime. That format was the basis for my first novel and remains one of the elements I use a lot.

Elmore Leonard
His books sound like talk, not writing. They are so natural, so seemingly effortless in the their movement forward, and so "cool" in their tone that they challenge me to write with less ornament, less artificiality in the prose. Finding the balance between Leonard and Burke stylistically is a real challenge.

Robert Parker
Early and late Parker is full of snappy, great dialog that drives much of the experience. I love the way Spenser talks, and though Leonard's dialog is also powerful, it is Parker's I ty to emulate.

So it was a good evening. And there was also cake! Brought by Ken Van Durand who drove all the way down from Orlando to deliver it. Here is Ken standing next to me with the cake in hand.

If you weren't able to attend and want a signed copy of DEAD LAST, I'm sure Joanne and the book goddesses of Murder on the Beach will be happy to send you one.

Here's their home on the web.

And here's Ken Van Durand's site, with his own view of the evening.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I'm thankful for my teachers. Most of all I'm thankful for Peter Meinke who was such a great inspiration to me (and many many others over the years), and such a great model for a hardworking and uncompromising writer. Poet, fiction writer, essayist and man for all seasons, and one who can always hold his liquor better than anyone I ever knew, growing funnier as the night went on. His poems are funny too. They became the models that I imitated early on. Funny and rich with emotion and complex while always being accessible. A marvelous blend of talents.

He taught me how to write, and showed by example how to live an academic life, one that is steeped in language and books and the arts.

And he's still kicking serious ass, as you can see here.

Or check out this interview.

Here's his website.

Advice to My Son by J. Peter Meinke

The trick is, to live your days
as if each one may be your last
(for they go fast, and young men lose their lives
in strange and unimaginable ways)
but at the same time, plan long range
(for they go slow; if you survive
the shattered windshield and the bursting shell
you will arrive
at our approximation here below
of heaven or hell).

To be specific, between the peony and the rose
plant squash and spinach, turnips and tomatoes;
beauty is nectar
and nectar, in a desert, saves–
but the stomach craves stronger sustaenance
than the honied vine.
Therefore, marry a pretty girl
after seeing her mother;
Show your soul to one man,
work with another;
and always serve bread with your wine.
But son, always serve wine.

There's a new anthology of short stories that includes one of mine, a story called "Good Forever." Quite a weird story in a collection that features noirish or oddball stories about Christmas. Title is BLUE CHRISTMAS and you can find the link here.

It's Books and Books' new publishing venture. Mitch Kaplan, the great bookseller here in Coral Gables is now a publisher.

Monday, November 21, 2011


As frequent visitors to my blog might notice, I've added advertisements lately. It's just an experiment to see how annoying they are. And to find out if they make me rich.

So far they haven't done the latter. But I'm curious if anyone has a reaction to them. Do they feel out of place? Do you just skim past them? What's your reaction?

I can remove them at any time, but it seemed like something I should at least know about.

And you might also notice that my Webmaster is redoing the site. I think it looks pretty cool so far. She's made some interesting changes to invigorate the pages and make things more active.

Soon my Facebook posts and Twitter feed will go live. You can join me in the meantime by going to my Facebook page or Twitter account: jameswhall for Twitter

Staying active in those social media places, plus adding to the Blog regularly does take a little time away from my writing. It's also very unThorn-like, but I'm trying to be a Modern Guy. Plus it's kind of fun interacting with readers and others that way.

Your thoughts on that?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Only two more weeks to get a super deal on the ebook of Under Cover of Daylight for Kindle. You can find it HERE.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The beauty of newspaper book reviewers is that they have the space and usually the passion and intelligence, as Oline Cogdill does, to dig into the substance of a novel they're reviewing rather than just recount the plot.

I doubt I'll get a better review than this one from Oline in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Murder gets personal for Hall's Thorn

By Oline Cogdill, Correspondent

November 20, 2011

'Dead Last' By James W. Hall. Minotaur, 304 pages, $25.99

The newspaper obituary isn't just the announcement of a person's death and service schedule. Obits often are homages to a life well lived, an insightful look at a person and the impact he or she had on their world.

But in the intriguing "Dead Last," the obit becomes a sinister weapon that takes aim at Thorn, James W. Hall's perennial Key Largo beach bum.

Thorn has never been the most sociable of characters -- content to eke out a living tying fishing flies, enjoying "the wayward scent of wilderness" and becoming involved with one nefarious crime after another.

But the death of Rusty Stabler, his wife of one month, throws Thorn into grief-fueled rage over which he has little control. "Some crucial atom inside him had cracked apart and all the wild-eyed craziness . . . stabilized by her presence went into a state of fission." Nearly suicidal, Thorn starts burning everything he owns -- clothes, furniture, mementoes. The bonfire "cleansing" is in full force when Buddha Hilton, the 19-year-old sheriff of Starkville, Okla., shows up at Thorn's Key Largo house. Michaela Stabler, a high-profile lawyer who was Buddha's adoptive mother and Rusty's aunt, was murdered in her bed in Starkville. Rusty's newspaper obituary was placed next to the body.

The murder scene is eerily similar to "Miami Ops," a failing TV crime show being filmed in South Florida that is written by Sawyer Moss and stars his twin brother, Flynn. Adding to the coincidence, the Moss brothers are the only sons of April Moss, the newspaper obit writer and an old acquaintance of Thorn.

Buddha has little use for Thorn, and both are out of their comfort zones in the urban jungle of Miami. But they make a credible detective team as they investigate whether the growing pattern of murders is a ploy for better TV ratings.

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.

Oline Cogdill can be reached at olinecog@aol.com.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A nice early review from Shelf Awareness

Book Review
Dead Last

Dead Last by James W Hall (Minotaur Books, $25.99 hardcover, 9780312607326 , December 6, 2011)

James W. Hall (Magic City; Silencer), South Florida resident, Edgar Award winner and creator of Thorn, that Key Largo loner whose renegade style always gets results, has written another page-turner, this time with a surprising twist.

April Moss, obituary writer for the Miami Herald, has been on the job for some time, without incident. Sawyer, one of her twin sons, writes scripts for a cable TV series called Miami Ops and has been using the obits as part of his storyline. The other twin, Flynn, is the lead actor on the series.

In the show, a serial killer is using obits to select his victims. Suddenly, a copycat appears: a real-life serial killer using April's obits.

Thorn's wife, Rusty, has just died as the story begins. April writes an obit about Rusty, and a copy is found at the bedside of her Aunt Michaela, murdered by an unknown intruder. A young sheriff from Oklahoma is investigating the murder and travels to Key Largo to ask Thorn for help. Thorn is in the process of losing it--burning all his possessions, moving rocks around, spending days and nights in his hammock, refusing help offered by his P.I. friend, Sugarman. The sheriff, Buddha Hilton, arrives and talks him into helping her because, somehow, this murder is tied up with Rusty. Together, they go to Miami to begin tracking clues. Other murders take place, also with April's obituary notices left at the crime scene. Buddha sees a pattern in how the killer decides on the victim, the place and the weapon.

Meanwhile, the crime show gets a great boost in ratings from all the publicity. There are paparazzi everywhere--asking Thorn for information, knowing that he is always around when there is bad news; wondering what Buddha's doing there from Oklahoma; and asking April if she feels like an accomplice in the murders.

There are plenty of suspects to go around: Gus, the show's producer, had a career making porn films with his daughter, Dee Dee, the female lead in the show. This is his last shot; if the show tanks, he'll never work again. Dee Dee has a screw loose and is absolutely delighted that the show has a new life, even if people are dying. Sawyer wants his show to be renewed and Flynn enjoys being a leading man, even though he is too dyslexic to memorize lines. For good measure, a guy named Jeff, who is a critter exterminator extraordinaire, has his reasons to do a number on Sawyer.

Which, if any, of these leading suspects, is the right one? As if that weren't enough of a puzzle, Thorn gets the surprise of his life in the course of the investigation. --Valerie Ryan

Shelf Talker: Florida Keys loner Thorn joins an Oklahoma sheriff to try to sort out the motivation behind a series of copycat killings based on a TV show.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Google already has posted a few sample chapters of Dead Last which you can find here.

Those devils.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Three changes to see me at the Miami Book Fair.

Go here for the book fair website.

I'll be doing a panel with Jeff Lindsay (Dexter), John Connolly (a wonderful writer and funny guy) and Jeff Abbott (who I'll be meeting for the first time.) That's in the auditorium at 2 PM on Saturday.

Then John Durfresne and Ann Hood and Ana Menendez at 4:30 to discuss the short story collection Blue Christmas--kind of noirish holiday stories.

Then I'll also be singing a walk-on with the Rock Bottom Remainders. Here's the info on that.