The Big Finish, by James W. Hall. Minotaur Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $25.99.
The cover flap announces that this book is the series finale, but I can’t believe it. It’s hard to say goodbye to an old friend. James W. Hall’s Thorn novels have long been such a central, exemplary, and yet distinctive part of the Florida mystery tradition that many readers will be going through separation anxiety. Mr. Hall, please say it isn’t so.
The current of ecological concerns that has gained strength over the series reaches flood stage in “The Big Finish,” the title perhaps a spoof on expectations in life and art. Thorn’s son, Flynn Moss, whom he and the readers have only recently met, is in trouble. Flynn – or someone – has reached out to Thorn about criminal practices in the North Carolina pig farming industry.
Thorn’s son, a member of the underground environmental activist organization known as ELF, has been working to expose and destroy a major player in this industry. At least four kinds of evil are running wild in this remote town. One is the exploitation of workers through intimidation. Another is the cruelty to the piglets crowded together and pumped up for sale to slaughterhouses. Yet another is incredible pollution from mismanagement of the toxic waste from the pigs.
Finally, there is the secretive nurturing of a plant with “downward hanging trumpet-shaped blooms” from which a dangerous drug is produced. Some of Dobbins’ workers “had tragically succumbed to an overdose of the trumpet flower’s pollen. Losing a well-trained man was always a setback, but it was the unlucky cost of doing the kind of business he was engaged in.” Such is the moral code of Webb Dobbins. This drug business is supporting the hog farm, which is staggering under enormous debts.
Thorn sets out with a plan to partner with his old detective buddy Sugarman, but from the beginning the mission is compromised by a scheming, unstable former FBI agent, Madeline Cruz. This woman has her own plans and motives and is manipulating Thorn, understanding his need to rescue his son at all costs. She is suspicious of Sugarman’s new girlfriend, Tina, who is along on the ride to North Carolina. Cruz suspects Tina of criminal activity.
So, Thorn’s mission has grown far more complicated and desperate. He perceives the trouble signs, but feels he has to play this game out in order to find Flynn. Cruz admits (or perhaps lies once more) that the plan is to use Thorn as bait to draw out suspects in a big government operation.
Other characters provide further complications.
X-88 is a rock of a man who served at Railford in the same cell block with Manny Obrero, a drug dealer who had been Madeline Cruz’s husband. Manny has connected X-88 to Madeline, so X is now part of her enterprise and enjoying the company of her daughter, Pixie. Am I going too fast? Here’s more: X-88 murders Sugarman’s deceitful girlfriend Tina by forcing three hamburger patties down her throat to suffocate her.
Murder by force feeding. Something like how they fatten pigs. . . .
To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 21, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 22 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Big Finish