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With this unusually fine first novel, poet and short-story writer Hall joins the elite crew (Hemingway, Elmore Leonard, Tom McGuane) who have used the Florida Keys as backdrop for muscular meditation--in this case, an involving and at times moving investigation of crime, vengeance, and the penitential power of love. Hall opens with a brutality: a teen-ager, Thorn, drowns a man in the same lake where 19 years earlier that man, driving drunk, killed Thorn's mom and dad. Cut to the present: Thorn, now 39 and a backwoods craftsman, makes his annual pilgrimage of remembrance to the lake, this year joined by girlfriend Sarah, a Miami lawyer. Vulnerable with love for her, he's about to confess his crime when she strips and swims into the lake, breaking the spell. This pattern of sudden action--often bloody--bursting apart the best-laid plans courses through the novel; most centrally, Thorn's quiet and decent life explodes at the hands of two agents: Sarah, who, revealed as the daughter of the man Thorn drowned, has tracked Thorn down to kill him (as Thorn tracked her dad); and an incandescent trio of indelible villains headed by the psycho/clownish Irv (who after killing his partner discovers "". . .a continent of unexplored pleasures, killing acquaintances, family,"" and who tells his next victim, ""I got this new policy. I don't wet strangers anymore. I got to get to know you good. Gourmet shit""). There's a bit too much of Elmore Leonard in this riveting nut, and in the dense web of bizarre violence that Thorn is drawn into: Irv's rape/slaughter of Thorn's stepmother (contracted by his stepsister, who's after an inheritance); the murder of the stepsister by a sociopathic attorney (who's after development land that's part of the inheritance; a fistfight and car bombing; blood drawn by knife, bullet, and fishhook. Yet via language as fresh as tropical rain, narrative as deep and swift as a sea current, and the crackling pull of love/hate between Thorn and Sarah that finally bonds these two rich, strong, believable characters, Hall makes this captivating, exciting tale uniquely his own. An outstanding debut that marks Hall as a writer to watch, closely.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1987
Publisher: Norton