“Silencer”: a new Thorn in James W. Hall’s crown

“Silencer,” by James W. Hall. Minotaur Books. 288 pages. $24.99 cloth. $14.99 paper.

Mr. Hall’s recurring character, Thorn, is among my favorite reluctant heroes.  Now in his eleventh outing, Thorn (don’t you love guys with one name?) forsakes his usual association with the Florida Keys and runs into new kinds of trouble as a landholder with the goal of saving an enormous tract in south-central Florida from development.  Well, no, the set-up is not as simple as that. Thorn has inherited an extensive patch of real estate east of Sarasota that he has agreed to sell to a state program called “Forever Florida.” With the money this brings, he hopes to obtain the historic Coquina Ranch holdings from Earl Hammond, Jr. and take them off the development table as well. 

Earl, the aging head of a Florida dynasty, does not see either of his two sons as proper stewards and is favorable to Thorn’s proposal. The younger son, Browning, is already exploiting a corner of the immense property with an ugly business in which the bored and wealthy can hunt-to-kill exotic animals Browning has brought in from around the world. He has associated himself with too many low-lifes, among them Antwan Shelton, a flashy ex-football star who is now a smooth but shady pitchman and dealmaker.

The older son, Frisco, has long ago separated himself from the family enterprise; he is a Miami policeman assigned and devoted to the mounted police command and its steeds.

At a gathering at the ranch, everyone is seemingly surprised when a long-time loyal employee, Gustavo Pinto, points a gun at Earl. Mayhem breaks out as Browning’s wife, the lovely Claire, senses that something is wrong and also grabs a firearm. But she hesitates just long enough before shooting at Gustavo for Earl to be murdered.

What is Gustavo’s motive? Why is Florida’s Governor Sanchez visiting that day? And why is our hero Thorn kidnapped soon after?

As one might expect, behind the bedlam are issues involving the land: its value, its history, its exploitation, is conservation. Forces large and small are at work, each hungry to prevail.

One piece of the action has to do with the Faust brothers, Moses and Jonah. These men, who buy and sell serial killer memorabilia, also do odd jobs for Browning Hammond. They are the ones who have kidnapped Thorn and have him confined in what seems to be a large sink hole within which a prison has been fashioned. The thought processes of these moral cripples are exquisitely realized by their creator.

Clearly, someone thinks Thorn’s plans to take valuable lands off the development table must be stopped or at least delayed. Earl’s death and Thorn’s disappearance are parts of the same case.

The episodes in “Silencer” that describe Thorn’s confinement, escape, and frenzied journey through the Central Florida wilderness are magnificent. Mr. Hall provides perfect-pitch sensory renditions of the unique terrain and of Thorn’s physical, mental, and emotional ordeal.

To read the entire review as it appears in the April 13, 2011 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the April 14 Naples and Palm Beach Gardens editions of Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – James W. Hall

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Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors

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