Hall’s literary skill keeps ‘Silencer’ humming

  • Fri Jan 29th, 2010 9:50am
  • Life

By Bruce Desilva Associated Press

“Silencer” by James W. Hall ($24.99)

After 10 books, fans of James W. Hall’s series featuring an amateur detective named Thorn have grown accustomed to seeing the reclusive roughneck come charging to the rescue.

So it’s startling, in book 11, to find him spending most his time held prisoner in an underground pit while his friends try to figure out where he is.

As followers of the series know, Thorn recently inherited millions from a distant relative. But the money is wasted on a guy whose idea of a good time is sitting around in cutoffs tying fishing flies in Key Largo.

Thorn can’t wait to rid himself of the money, so he puts his girlfriend, Rusty Stabler in charge of figuring out how.

Sharing Thorn’s love for what’s left of Florida’s natural landscape, she cooks up a complicated real estate deal to preserve 300 square miles. But some bad people have other plans for the land.

In quick succession, 87-year-old Earl Hammond, a key player in the land deal, is murdered, Thorn is kidnapped and thrown in the pit, and his friends, Stabler and Sugarman, begin their desperate search for him.

Hall, who is not only a fine crime novelist but also an excellent poet, retired recently from his job as a college literature professor. (Dennis Lehane, author of “Gone Baby Gone” and “Mystic River,” was once one of his students.)

What Hall has done in “Silencer” would be a big gamble for a lesser talent. It’s generally not a good idea to keep your hero immobilized for most of the book. Yet Hall, who excels at character development, has created a passel of fascinating good and bad guys to drive the action.

They keep the story jumping until the very end, when Thorn finds a way out of that pit (you knew he would, right?) to lend the other good guys a last-minute hand.