ROUGH DRAFT by James W. Hall


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A freewheeling FBI unit uses a sorrowing crime writer to get at a brutal hired killer—in an intricate thriller that never quite hits the Michael Connelly mark. Five years ago, Hannah Keller’s parents were murdered, presumably by the embezzler her father had just seen slip through his fingers. But her Miami PD colleagues never bought Hannah’s theory that J.J. Fielding was the killer. Now that she’s retired to become a successful crime writer, the Feebees figure she’ll be the perfect bait to flush out Hal Bonner, the Cali assassin who likes to kill his victims by squeezing the life out of their hearts. If Hal can be persuaded that Hannah’s found Fielding and his boodle, he’ll come out of hiding to follow her as she follows the trail of false clues the FBI has laid down, beginning with a mysteriously annotated copy of her first novel that seems to point to Fielding’s whereabouts. Though the plot is diabolically clever, the Bureau types are all ciphers, and Hannah, struggling alone to raise her young son Randall, who was traumatized by seeing his grandparents’ killers, doesn’t leave much more of an impression. But the bad guys, as ever with Hall (Body Language, 1998, etc.), are delightfully hissable. Hal, an idiot savant of homicide with the self-awareness of a cinder block (“He could do math. He could read. He wasn’t learning disabled”) meets his match in Misty, a sad-eyed stripper who’s stalking Hannah for reasons of her own. It’s a shame that it’s so obvious for so long what’s going to happen when they finally come face to face with her, her son, and her son’s house pet. More twists than thrills, but connoisseurs of villainy will appreciate the latest additions to the most memorable gallery of criminal grotesques since the glory days of Dick Tracy.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-20383-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1999


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