OFF THE CHART by James W. Hall


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After years of tussling with metaphorical pirates of every stripe (Blackwater Sound, 2002, etc.) fly-tying South Florida swashbuckler Thorn finally gets to go up against the real thing.

These buccaneers are updated, of course. They use satellite tracking to identify their seagoing targets and spend their shore leaves investigating real-estate deals. But the pirates who kidnapped Janey Sugarman, the nine-year-old daughter of the struggling private eye who’s one of Thorn’s oldest friends, wore a bandanna and an eyepatch. At least that’s the getup Sugarman glimpsed on his video feed from the chatroom he and Janey were logged onto when she was snatched from the yacht of Dr. Andy Markham, her mother’s beau, whom Hall can’t resist making a specialist in putting his patients in touch with their earlier incarnations. Vic Joy, the sadistic pirate chief who’s grabbed Janey, plans to swap her for Thorn’s ratty Key Largo estate, which he prices at $3 million. As the ransom note observes, there’s no point in going to the authorities, since Vic’s being protected by Jimmy Lee Webster, a rogue ex–Navy Secretary who only wants Thorn to flush Vic from hiding by rekindling his romance with Vic’s kid sister Anne Bonny Joy. Thorn, cut off from Sugarman when his old pal learns that he once refused to give Webster information about Anne that could’ve headed off the whole nefarious plot, is left to work in the dark while Sugar, still in daily contact with Janey via computer, tries to pinpoint her location by getting his precocious daughter to identify the local fauna and work out her longitude even as Thorn goes after Vic and his well-armed cohorts the old-fashioned way, by leading with his chin.

It’s all a little “cartoonish,” as one of Vic’s many victims says. But the combination of world-class villainy, exotic locations, quick-march pacing, and studly heroism also suggests Thorn’s channeling James Bond.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-312-27178-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Minotaur
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2003


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