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Hell's Bay    by James W. Hall order for
Hell's Bay
by James W. Hall
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

When the pulse-pounding action of Hell's Bay begins, eighty-six year old Abigail Bates is making a solitary journey down Florida's (ironically named) Peace River in a canoe. While moving downstream on the gently moving river, she ponders an important and controversial decision that will affect the entire region. Then, without warning, the elderly Bates - the leader of Bates International, the multifaceted corporation with enormous phosphate mining operations, and the second largest land owner in Florida - is brutally confronted by a highly-motivated murderer who has patiently waited to ambush and drown the defenseless octogenarian.

Meanwhile, in a rapidly unfolding series of seemingly unrelated (but surprisingly relevant) events at the southern end of Florida, a complicated and resourceful fellow who prefers to be known only as Thorn has agreed to go along with good friend (and former lover) Rusty Stabler as her assistant on an exclusive charter fishing adventure (on the inaugural trip in Stabler's new boat) to the unexplored sections in the Hell's Bay region of the western Everglades. Several others will be joining Thorn and Stabler: John Milligan and his daughter Mona, Annette Gordon and Holland Green (journalist and photographer from Out There magazine), and Teeter (Stabler's brother).

Thorn - taciturn, distrustful, 'hardcore sinner,' and 'resident curmudgeon' - is usually prepared for any challenge or adventure. Nothing, though, could have adequately prepared Thorn (and the rest of the fishing group) for the nightmare and tragedy that waits for them at Hell's Bay.

Problems begin when John Milligan, a man with more than a few secrets and surprises up his sleeve, makes a stunning revelation to Thorn about his family and his background. As Thorn wrestles with Milligan's disquieting announcement, Thorn notices that a mysterious person in a smaller boat has been stalking Stabler's boat. Soon it becomes clear that the stalker's intentions are questionable. Moreover, Thorn has good reason to believe that someone on Stabler's boat knows the identity, motivation, and goals of the stalker, and Thorn's challenge is quickly becoming complex and urgent: Thorn must find out why the person in the other boat is pursuing them, find out who on the Stabler boat is implicated in the stalker's plans, and - if possible - avoid problems and dangers. However, when all hell breaks loose, Thorn realizes he waited too long to avoid everyone's exposure to helplessness, chaos, and violent death.

As a rapidly escalating and gripping tale of corruption, revenge, terror, and murder, James W. Hall's Hell's Bay is a must-read thriller that thematically showcases the problems of unprincipled corporate greed and expansion versus environmental conservation and personal health and welfare. Hall is the author of four books of poetry, a collection of short stories, a collection of essays, and fourteen novels, including Rough Draft, Blackwater Sound, Off the Chart, Forests of the Night, and Magic City. With the sublimely evocative and powerfully provocative Hell's Bay, the author proves that he is definitely at the top of his game.

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