Tag Archives: James W. Hall

Harper McDaniel a welcome new protagonist from a much-admired writer

When They Come for You, by James W. Hall. Thomas & Mercer 288 pages. Trade Paperback $15.95.

Add James W. Hall to the list of premier mystery/thriller authors who have jumped tracks from a classic series featuring a male protagonist to a new series featuring a female character. Having raved over Michael Connelly’s Renée Ballard and Randy Wayne White’s Hannah Smith, I am now gushing over Mr. Hall’s Harper McDaniel.  

We meet Harper on a pleasant February day in her Coconut Grove home. Her husband Ross, an investigative reporter, is shaving while holding their infant son Leo. Harper must snap a picture of them. That’s part of her nature as a professional photographer who is also the daughter of Deena Roberts, a photographer superstar and a suicide. A few blocks away, Spider Combs performs his electronic surveillance of the home, taking pictures and filming the movements of the gorgeous Harper. He knows a lot about this family, a family he has been contracted to destroy. Only Harper survives the fire.

When local police don’t seem to take the case seriously, Harper takes matters into her own hands.

James W. Hall

Whomever hired Combs and his associates wanted to stop Ross from finishing his expose about the chocolate industry. Harper, a martial arts expert, seeks justice and revenge. She needs to finish Ross’s work. With the help of her adopted financier brother, Nick; her retired mafioso grandfather, Sal; and – much later in the novel – family friend and movie star Ben Westfield, Harper prepares herself for the only task that will give her life meaning and purpose.

Mr. Hall’s skill in capturing Harper’s emotional turmoil, her ultimate resilience, and her courage adds great verisimilitude to a character who comes close to being a candidate for feminine (if not feminist) legend. The author’s superb rendering of Harper’s tradecraft fuels the legend with astonishing combat scenes. Yet we are always aware of Harper’s mortality, the preparation and capabilities of her foes, and her occasional doubts and fleeting fears. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the August 30, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 31 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click hereFlorida Weekly – When They Come for You

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Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye

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.  BigFinish,The

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.

James W. Hall

James W. Hall

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

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Sleuthfest 2015 Coming to Deerfield Beach

A knock-out group of presenters and attendees / A must-go for mystery & thriller writers.

SleuthFest 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015 – Sunday, March 01, 2015
DoubleTree by Hilton
(954)427-7700, (800)624-3606
100 Fairway Drive
Deerfield Beach, Florida 33441
United States

Map and Directions


Contact Information

  • SleuthFest Co-Chairs:
    Joanne Sinchuk and Victoria Landis
    Contact at Sleuthfestinfo@yahoo.com



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Eco-terrorists threaten nuclear plant in James W. Hall’s latest

“Going Dark,” by James W. Hall. Minotaur Books. 320 pages. $25.99.

There is no more delightful companion for a habitual reader than a new book by James W. Hall. Even taking into account the spectrum of darkness signaled by Mr. Hall’s perfect and provocative title, readers will have to agree that the maturing of Thorn, the author’s continuing character, is in itself a delight. In addition, Mr. Hall’s virtuoso manipulations of plot, theme, setting, and atmosphere will draw waves of delighted appreciation from alert, perceptive readers.  GoingDark

The plot concerns an environmentalist group’s campaign against nuclear power plants. Activists from the Miami cell of a loose federation called ELF (Earth Liberation Front) are preparing to take a major stand. Their goal: to shut down the Turkey Point nuclear power plant that feeds electricity to a large swath of Florida. If they are successful, “lights out” will be the least of the consequences.

Flynn Moss, a young man who is Thorn’s recently discovered son, has determined to do something useful with his life, and he has chosen the ELF group and this mission as his own. Little did he know the degree to which it has been infiltrated by extremist nut-cases who have a far more devastating goal: nuclear disaster.


Two of the local ELF leaders are Leslie Levine and Cameron Prince.  Leslie’s concerns include the survival of the crocodiles that live in the cooling canals of the power plant.  The novel opens with a scene in which Leslie is following a mother croc to where she had buried her eggs. Cameron, whose family is legendary in the Miami / Keys area, is filming the activity. Suddenly, the croc mother is alerted to her presence and Leslie is gone!

Leslie surfaces later in the novel (don’t be surprised). She and Cameron are heading up the shut-down of Turkey Point. They prepare to counter the forces arrayed to protect the plant and head off any threats. The plant’s own security force is led by a maniacal schemer who seems bent on having the plant under attack so he can be its heroic savior. A federal task force headed by Thorn’s old FBI friend Frank Sheffield is assigned to thwart the suspected sabotage. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the December 4, 2013 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 5 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, click here Florida Weekly – Going Dark

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What makes for a bestselling novel?

“Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers,” by James W. Hall. Random House. 336 pages. $16.00.

James W. Hall, best known as the prize-winning author of the Thorn thrillers, has fashioned a practical guide to the must-have ingredients for commercial success as a writer. Drawing upon his own experience as well as the insights developed from teaching his popular college course on bestsellers, Mr. Hall presents a lively discussion of twelve blockbuster novels. While each is distinctive, they share many features in ways that are sometimes immediately obvious, sometimes less so. 

The author focuses on twelve well-known titles, including “The Godfather,” “Gone with the Wind,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “The Firm,” and “The Bridges of Madison County.” He shows how each of the twelve, to a greater or lesser extent, orchestrates twelve features. One of these features is the centrality of a “hot-button” item that reveals “some larger, deep-seated, and unresolved conflict in the national consciousness.” For example, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” published in 1960, tapped into the nation’s concern with the stresses and strains of the civil rights movement and vigilante justice while probing the longer, deeper issue of America’s troubled history of slavery and racial prejudice.  

Another shared ingredient is the presentation of America as the golden land of innocence and opportunity, or at least the nostalgia for such a vision. While some of the novels under consideration tap into this vision in a positive sense, others invoke it only to mourn its contamination. Mr. Hall explores “Peyton Place” and “Valley of the Dolls” from this perspective, but it becomes clear that the other ten novels also make use of this ingredient. “The Exorcist,” “Jaws,” “The Dead Zone,” and “The Da Vinci Code” are the titles not previously mentioned that are also treated in this entertaining, informative, and totally reader-friendly study. . . .

James W. Hall

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the May 16, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the May 17 Naples and Bonita Springs editions, and the May 31 Palm Beach Gardens edition, click here: Florida Weekly – HitLit pdf

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James W. Hall’s “Dead Last” is dead-on

Dead Last, by James W. Hall. Minotaur Books.  304 pages. $25.99.

A new book by James W. Hall is something to put it 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 Hall’s 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 a 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 script writer, 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 shows stars. The other is Dee Dee Dollimore, a gorgeous, toned 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 copy-cat – 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, Oklahoma 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 nineteen, 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, Miss Hilton’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 copy-cat news might just spike the ratings and save the series. Is one of them behind these killings?

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the November 24, 2011 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly (and other local editions of Florida Weekly), click here: Florida Weekly – James W. Hall (2)pdf

See also: https://philjason.wordpress.com/2011/04/28/silencer-a-new-thorn-in-james-w-hall%e2%80%99s-crown/

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“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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