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.

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