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5.0 out of 5 stars The Old Man and the Thorn
I am subject to a strange form of psychopathic dysfunction which compels me to read the last book in a series before going back and reading any of its predecessors. Or it feels that way, anyway. Usually the reason is that everyone is raving about a book and I am too impatient to read 10 books just so I can read the latest and bestest. Generally this theory works out; I...
Published on Feb. 19 2002 by Marc Ruby™

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3.0 out of 5 stars What happened?
I'm a huge fan of James Hall's work and have read everything he's published to date except his poetry, and I've only missed that because I can't find it. For me, his strength lies in the balance of characterizations, plot, and description--at his best his prose is truly poetic. Only a few living authors in his genre are his equal; among them I would count Michael...
Published on June 18 2002 by Dr. Christopher Coleman


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4.0 out of 5 stars The Return of Thorn, Feb. 4 2003
This review is from: Blackwater Sound: A Novel (Mass Market Paperback)
After taking some time off from his series character, James Hall has returned to writing about Thorn, a man who treasures his fierce independence only slightly less than his love of crusades. When last seen, Thorn was recovering from a mad doctor's unnecessary treatments, but now (without any real explanation) he is back to peak health and enjoying the mellow life of fishing, beer and beautiful women.
In this story, his idyllic life is disrupted when a plane crashes while he is out at sea. It soon becomes apparent that this crash was not accidental, but is the result of a dysfunctional family and the nasty weapon they have developed. This also gets Thorn entangled with Alexandra Rafferty, the heroine of Hall's previous novel, Body Language.
For Hall, one of the sharper writers in the field, this is not his best effort. Compared to past novels, his villains this time are only slightly warped and the chemistry between Thorn and Alex is relatively minimal. In addition, Thorn isn't as interesting as in the past, perhaps getting stuck in the rut of many series characters.
Nonetheless, even weaker Hall is entertaining reading, and there is a lot of fun along the way. If you've never read Hall, you'd think this was pretty good crime fiction (and you'll be even happier when you read his other books). If you are a Hall fan, you should find this slightly disappointing, but still a worthwhile read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars What happened?, June 18 2002
I'm a huge fan of James Hall's work and have read everything he's published to date except his poetry, and I've only missed that because I can't find it. For me, his strength lies in the balance of characterizations, plot, and description--at his best his prose is truly poetic. Only a few living authors in his genre are his equal; among them I would count Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, and James Burke. That these three, along with Robert Crais (another author whose works I greatly enjoy) wrote complementary reviews for the blurb of Blackwater Sound really whetted my appetite for Hall's latest, and I began it with real anticipation.
One of the Hallmarks (pun fully intended) of Hall's writing is a plot in which big issues are at stake--it's not just a case of solving or preventing a murder; ecological catastrophe, grisly human experimentation or the ownership of Miami are up for grabs. Blackwater Sound is no exception, and this novel concerns an experimental weapon capable of destroying electrical systems at a distance--devastating for airplanes, banks, and in fact most of modern life. Hall's antihero Thorn comes to the rescue--in spite of the fact that in his last appearance (Red Sky at Night) he was suffering from drug-induced paralysis and a gunshot from which we were told he might not fully recover. This crisis, which was so devastating and profound for Thorn, is not even mentioned in passing in Blackwater Sound. Frankly I think we've seen enough of Thorn for a while--although I like him, he's losing his credibility unless he really is a bad-luck magnet; as one of the characters says: "the baddest luck I've ever known."
But the book starts beautifully. Here are the first two sentences: "The marlin was the color of the ocean at twenty fathoms, an iridescent blue, with eerie light smoldering within its silky flesh as if its electrons had become unstable by the cold friction of the sea. A ghostly phosphorescence, a gleaming flash, its large eye unblinking as it slipped into a seam in the current, then rose toward the luminous surface where a school of tuna was pecking at the tiny larvae and crustaceans snagged on a weed line." To me, there's a sense of joy in the language that Hall conveys, and I'm captivated by writing like this.
Inexplicably, though, somewhere along the way the book becomes just another thriller. As other reviewers have mentioned, there is an explosion which is not explained and very subtly set-up {actually the paperback differs from the hardback in that a few lines are added concerning it}, and which propels events in a direction they might not otherwise have taken. Thorn and the female protagonist, Alexandra, fall deeply and suddenly in love most unconvincingly since they have been deeply antagonistic towards one another. One of the minor characters who Thorn enlisted in his aid is killed and there is no fallout whatsoever--Thorn apparently never gives him another thought. And finally, the villain who had acted so coolly throughout the rest of the book comes back for revenge on Thorn with apparently no more of a plan to kill him than to outdraw him. Compare this writing from the end to those gorgeous opening sentences: "He pulled her up in his arms and held her for a moment, both of them watching as Lawton hauled the grouper up from the shallows. The old man bent down and scooped up the fish and turned around, holding up his silver prize with both hands." I do understand that writers may handle words differently at the beginnings of books than they do at the end, but where has the poetry gone, where is the evocative description? The ending seems flat to me; serviceable, but nothing special. Writing literary thrillers is certainly a special challenge and I'm grateful that Hall accepts it; but I hope for a return to his old magic in his next work.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A bit farfetched, but entertaining..., May 19 2002
By 
John R. Linnell (New Gloucester, ME United States) - See all my reviews
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This is Moby Dick light...kind of....however Captain Ahab was a more compelling character than A.J. Braswell even though the whale only took Ahab's leg (at first). This story opens with a giant Marlin taking the life of Braswell's son Tony. The Braswell's we find out much later in the book are a super dysfunctional family which could probably have been the subject of a book all by themselves without bringing Thorn and company into the mix, but what is a James Hall book without Thorn?
Thorn is in the process of breaking up with his naked girlfriend Casey, when an MD-11 airliner is the victim of a product demonstration by Morgan Braswell. The Braswell's failing company has developed some kind of ray gun which shuts of all the electrical systems in it's targets and Ms. Braswell is performing a demo for a potential purchaser. The unlucky MD-11 comes down in Blackwater Sound. In probably the best piece of writing in the book, Thorn is involved in rescue efforts. Events conspire from there on in to draw Thorn into the vortex of the Braswell family along with some other entertaining characters to a somewhat predictable and bloody conclusion. However, Hall always entertains and this is no exception. Not a bad beach read.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Mediocrity cruises the Gulf Stream..., March 16 2002
By 
Ian McIntyre (Miami, FL United States) - See all my reviews
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It's about time that Florida readers had a good tale out of that great chain of islands, the Keys. Unfortunately, this latest effort by James W. Hall is not it. Blackwater Sound does not even come close to capturing the atmosphere or place of this part of the world. The characters, with one minor exception, are flat and uninteresting. The protagonist with one name, Thorn, generates little emotional response from the reader.Oh, the tired old formula boy meets girl, girl despises boy, boy and girl finally have steamy sex as girl realizes that boy is indeed a desirable find; that cliche is alive and well here. We have the marlin in the Gulf Stream, ala Mr. Hemingway. Only Mr. Hemingway did it first and much, much better. Hall also seems to want to give his marlin some of the qualities of the white whale, Moby Dick. Here again, apologies may be due to Melville. As I read this book, I kept hoping for something more. Some chapters began in an interesting manner, only to fall apart as I read on, as though the author had more pressing matters elsewhere and had to hurry along. The plot line is thin stuff, and certain events are contrived and unrealistic. With good reading time so valuable, I am sorry that I wasted any on this poorly crafted novel. A far better idea would have been to re-read To Have and Have Not.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Old Man and the Thorn, Feb. 19 2002
I am subject to a strange form of psychopathic dysfunction which compels me to read the last book in a series before going back and reading any of its predecessors. Or it feels that way, anyway. Usually the reason is that everyone is raving about a book and I am too impatient to read 10 books just so I can read the latest and bestest. Generally this theory works out; I like the latest book and go back and read all the rest of the series with the serene knowledge that, even if the author trips up a bit, it will work out in the end. James W. Hall is such a case in point.
The story opens on a Braswell family fishing expedition, where the oldest son is pulled overboard and drowned in the process of tagging a giant marlin. After that short prequel, the scene shifts forward to the Florida Keys ten years later where Thorn, the hero of these mystery/adventure tales is boating with his (soon to be ex-) girlfriend. Technically, I believe she breaks up with him for being too interesting. In any case, this piece of business done, a commercial jet crashes right in front of him. Thorn goes to the rescue, and notices that another boat, which he later tracks to the Braswells, is not helping at all. This is the first tightening of a web that draws Thorn into direct conflict with the wealthy and powerful Braswells, their compulsions, and a weapon that can destroy electronic systems.
The Braswells are the ultimate dysfunctional family. The are headed by A.J., who lives only to find Big Mother, the fish that killed his son Andy. Johnny, the youngest, is a bit of a psychotic space cadet who loves knives and gangster movies. Cleaning up after everyone else is Morgan, who runs the family company, keeps Johnny from becoming a serial killer, and has some very weird problems of her own. It is Morgan who has cooked up a scheme, using some of Andy's formula's and plans, to create a world class weapon of destruction. The Braswells have only one reaction to people who get in their way, and Thorn naturally moves to the top of the list.
On Thorn's side are Alexandra Rafferty, a police photographer, and her father, the mostly wacky but sometimes wise Lawton Collins. His good friend Sugarman also plays a vital roll. The bill is filled out with countless other characters, some witty, some grim, and all well painted. While 'Blackwater Sound' is mostly action, Hall's ability to build character is outstanding, and has to be a large part of the reason that readers keep coming back. I am tempted to compare these stories to those of the dean of Florida mystery writers, John MacDonald, who is a long time favorite of mine. But the truth is that both of these writers are masters in their own right. Certainly, if you like one, you will no doubt like the other. By all means, read this novel. As I've indicated, there is no problem with starting at with this volume, or any other.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another Top-Notch Thriller From Mr. Hall., Feb. 7 2002
By 
Craig Larson (Maple Grove, MN USA) - See all my reviews
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Man, I like this guy! Finished _Blackwater Sound_ last night and it's another winner. I always feel like I'm doing him a bit of a disservice because I get so into the books I don't want to set them down, and I tend to read faster and faster. I know I'm not giving all the lyrical descriptions of the setting, etc. (on a par with those of James Lee Burke), the attention they deserve. And now I have to wait another two(?) years for the next one.

In this book, Hall brings together Thorn, his series character, with Alexandra Collins, the crime scene photographer he introduced in _Body Language_. Thorn is out on his boat one night when he witnesses the crash of a jetliner, which narrowly misses him as it makes a water landing. First on the scene, he swoops in to rescue survivors and spots another boat nearby, with a trio of suspicious-looking folks just standing by, not doing much to help. Later, onshore, he's threatened with a monster knife by a big, baby-faced kid, Johnny Braswell, one of the three.
This draws him into a complex mystery involving a HERF gun, capable of knocking out the electronic systems of jets, cars, banks, etc., and the Braswell family, who are some of the scariest villains Hall's created yet (and if you've read his work, you know that's something).

Since Alexandra's father, Lawton, who suffers from Alzheimer's, is pulled into the mix, when he's kidnapped by the Braswells, she gets involved and it isn't long before she runs into Thorn and his friend Sugarman. There's the usual mix of darkly humorous dialogue, over the top violence, truly evil bad guys, and the virtuous, moral influence of Thorn. Though he isn't really a detective, he does fulfill the same role, relying on his own personal code of ethics to see things through. And Hall is great at describing settings, too. Whenever I read one of these books, the first thing I want to do is book a fishing
vacation to South Florida. Very highly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Quiet Man, Jan. 25 2002
By 
sweetmolly (RICHMOND, VA USA) - See all my reviews
Long ago I read a Thorn story and promptly forgot the title. Every time I’d read a mystery with a Florida setting, I thought of Thorn. I’d question mystery experts about a guy who lives on the Keys, a real outsider who doesn’t want any ties and cares not about material things. Recently, I saw a message on the Amazon Discussion Board about “Blackwater Sound,” immediately made the connection, and ordered the book. I was not disappointed.
The haunting prologue described young Andy Braswell who, attempting to attach an electronic device on a Moby Dick sized marlin, was dragged and lost at sea. Ten years later, his mother has committed suicide, his father is still obsessed with catching the marlin, and his brother and sister are emotional wrecks.
The story proper opens with a horrendous crash of a commercial airliner into Blackwater Sound off Key Largo, FL. Thorn is part of the rescue operation. The crash, the sounds and the aftermath, are skillfully and almost poetically rendered by the author. I thought I had read the ultimate in crash descriptions in Andrew Klavan’s “Hunting Down Amanda,” but Mr. Hall is in a class by himself.
The story is well paced and the characterizations are excellent. These are stand-alone type people. After you have read this book, you will surely agree that dysfunctional families are each different unto themselves. The technology is a little weak, but is more than made up for by the stirring battles between man and marlin. Mr. Hall’s expertise is in fishing not gadgets. Recommended.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Another great JW Hall book with some minor flaws, Jan. 23 2002
By 
Professor D. L. Hoffman (Lewisburg, PA United States) - See all my reviews
I was really looking forward to reading this book when I found out that JW Hall was bringing back Thorn, Sugerman and Alexandra. The book is almost written in a lyrical way and for that reason enjoyable to read. The first chapter is right out of Hemingway and takes your breath away: a killer Mama Marlin. And as usual, Hall brings to the fore some real funky villains. Talk about brotherly love to the extreme. But there were so many unanswered "holes" in the story. Didn't she and her father bump into him in a previous novel (Body Language)? And what's with this NERF box or gun. I'd hate to be in the same boat with it when someone pushed the button and turned off all the power. Holy Buck Rogers! And what's with the big explosion in the marina? What caused it? How does it relate to the story? Of course, Thorn got to rescue Alexandra and see her in the all together. And how did Alexandra get injured? I thought she was back on the boat. And finally the ending... I'm not going to give it away, but...c'mon JW! You traded a grouper for a marlin. Bring back the BIG MAMA MARLIN!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hall's Best, Dec 30 2001
By A Customer
I've read a few of Hall's books, actually all of them. When I finished Black Water Sound I debated with myself for a while and decided it was better than Undercover of Daylight and Bones of Coral, my two previous favorites. It may be that I am fifteen years older than I was when I first started reading Mr. Hall or maybe because Mr. Hall is older, wiser, has refined his craft, uses more sophisticated language, has dialed in so deeply to the unique world that is the Florida Keys, is able to describe the dynamics of relationships better than he ever did, or maybe he's just doing what he's always done, write a damed good book. In any event, James Hall has come up with a great story that brings together his bread-and-butter character, Thorn, with a captavating female character from a previous book to turn this action/adventure/thriller/mystery into a literary page-turner. Only James Hall could write a story mixing high-tech terrorism and Marlin fishing. Good and evil, old and new, love and hate described by a master of description. The chapters fly along so fast, I actually tried to slow it down.
Anyway, I think I'll have to give this one a bunch of stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another solid Hall thriller, Jan. 13 2002
Blackwater Sound brings together Thorn and Sugarman with police photographer Alex and her father from Body Language. As usual, Hall delivers an excellent thriller with superb pacing, interesting characters and a few explosions here and there. We hate the people that Thorn hates, but still feel the ambivalence for hating someone who deserves it.
I was glad to see some more of Sugarman in this book, as he's a chracter who's intrigued me in other books. Bringing in Alex from his other series doesn't feel gimmicky at all -- it's a very natural weaving of two sets of characters that I already knew from having read all of the other Hall books.
Starting with Blackwater Sound would deprive a reader of some fuller character understanding from the other books -- but would certainly motivate someone to go back and read all of the other books to learn more about them.
Just a good, solid, enjoyable book.
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Blackwater Sound: A Novel
Blackwater Sound: A Novel by James W. Hall (Mass Market Paperback - Nov. 18 2002)
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