Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dead Last Book Review

It should come as no surprise to long-time readers here that I'm a big fan of John D. MacDonald's work, especially Travis McGee. Plug "Travis" into the blog's search pane and see. 

One of my own novels is an homage to Trav, down to the lead character's name, and McGee's attitude permeates many of my other books. 

Gonna steal, steal from the best.

Since MacDonald's death, nobody has stepped up  to fill his shoes, but there are a handful of writers who work the Florida sun-sand-sea-beach-bum-mystery-solver vein to good effect; my two favorites are Carl Hiassen and James W. Hall

Hiassen has a continuing character, Skink, a half-loon former Florida state Governor who has gone into the swamps to live and who, from time-to-time gets involved with a caper. Hiassen gets into environmental stuff that was usually part of MacDonald's storylines. Less in the forefront in McGee's adventures, it was a concern that MacDonald addressed: The grief at the vanishing beauty of the old Florida for what an ugly thing it is still changing into. 

This is a through-line in a lot of stories that are ostensibly mysteries set in present-day Florida, and with good reason. 

Hall's main character is Thorn, who is much more a beach bum than McGee–throughout most of the series, he makes a meager living tying fishing lure flies, and lives in a stilt house next to the water on one of the Keys. 

If they met, Thorn and McGee would smile and nod at each other, both knowing at a glance they were brothers under the skin. Hedge knights who keep bumping into dragons. 

Again, what has become a standard comment for me: If you've read this series, all you need know is the next one is out. If you haven't read them,  you should. The ideal way would be to go back and collect the first one, from 1986, and work your way forward. 

Hall has some surprises in Dead Last, a couple of which are solar plexus punches that took my breath away. Whoa! Didn't see that one coming ... 

Not content to just let Thorn roll along easy after getting a big inheritance in a previous novel, Hall stirs his protagonist up, and turns him–and the readers–every which way but loose.   

(Aside: I've always had a fondness for the name "Thorn," since that was also the name of the protagonist in my first novel, The Tularemia Gambit, back in 1981.)

I won't reveal the story, save in the most general way: A crappy TV show being shot in Miami features a serial killer who uses newspaper obituaries to select the next victim. This seems to set off a copycat killer, who drags Thorn into it. 

If you don't know the term, google"zentai," and click on the picture search.

Life starts off hard for Thorn this time, and it gets harder as it goes along. I think John D. MacDonald would be proud of Hall, especially a twist that fans of The Lonely Silver Rain will surely smile about.

This is the best mystery I've read this year, and I've read more than a few. 

1 comment:

Kris said...

The Tularemia Gambit- It's nice to finally see some copies for under 50 bucks. I have been scouring used book stores for over 2 decades for this one.