Going Dark (Thorn Series #13)
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Going Dark (Thorn Series #13)

3.7 4
by James W. Hall

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"Master of suspense" (The New York Times Book Review) James W. Hall delivers another nail-biting Thorn thriller and this time, the stakes are higher than ever as Thorn embarks on a mission to save his newfound son.

Earth Liberation Front is a loosely-knit national organization of radical environmental activists who take a "by any means necessary"


"Master of suspense" (The New York Times Book Review) James W. Hall delivers another nail-biting Thorn thriller and this time, the stakes are higher than ever as Thorn embarks on a mission to save his newfound son.

Earth Liberation Front is a loosely-knit national organization of radical environmental activists who take a "by any means necessary" approach to defending the planet. In the last decade, ELF has been responsible for almost a hundred million dollars in damage mainly through arson. The FBI ranks them, along with other eco-radicals, as the number one homegrown terrorist threat. And Flynn Moss—Thorn's newly discovered son—appears to be among ELF's members.
"no-holds-barred action…A fine thriller on every level." —Booklist
Flynn has naively fallen in with an ELF cell in Miami, where he's engaged in non-violent protest against one of Florida's largest nuclear power plants. But soon Flynn uncovers another, darker plot among ELF operatives—one that involves a radioactive catastrophe rivaling Chernobyl or Fukushima. With a growing sense of dread about his involvement in such a scheme, Flynn summons Thorn to help him escape from Prince Key, the remote island off the shores of Miami where the ELF group is camped. But just as soon as Thorn leads the fight to save Flynn, he reaches a frightening realization: In order to protect his son, he must join the eco-terrorists and help them complete their deadly mission. And time is running out in Going Dark

"James Hall is the king of the Florida-gothic noir."—New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/07/2013
Moral ambiguity seasons the violent action in Edgar-winner Hall’s outstanding 13th thriller featuring laconic loner Thorn (after 2011’s Dead Last). Thorn, who lives in the undeveloped backwoods of Key Largo and loathes the kind of hyperdevelopment that’s ruining Florida, is roused from his isolation to extricate his grown son, Flynn Moss, whose existence he only recently became aware of, from the Earth Liberation Front, a group of ecological terrorists who are planning to shut down a nearby atomic power plant. Thorn actually is sympathetic with ELF’s goals—but he doesn’t trust them. Meanwhile, FBI agent Frank Sheffield begins uncovering a plot to create a nuclear disaster that could annihilate Miami, while a beautiful female Homeland Security agent and a cocksure psycho who likes to play with electricity are working their own schemes. Hall shifts among the skillfully drawn characters, each uncertain of which ends justify extreme means, as the action races toward a literally explosive climax at the nuclear plant. The result is both thoughtful and white-knuckle tense. Agent: Richard Pine, Inkwell Management. (Dec.)
Kirkus Reviews
In Hall's 13th Thorn novel, the go-it-alone Key Largo PI undergoes a crash course in parenthood when he discovers the grown son he barely knows belongs to an environmental activist group with terrorism on its agenda. In targeting the Turkey Point nuclear power plant near the Florida Keys, the Earth Liberation Front originally had planned on a nonviolent action. But extremists in the group now have a spectacular demolition in mind, having acquired a superpowerful explosive. Taken prisoner by ELF on the remote island where they're preparing the attack, Thorn is unable to talk his son, Flynn, into escaping with him. But to be around the boy in order to protect him, he convinces ELF that he supports their efforts. It helps that one of the group's leaders is a woman for whom Thorn was a surrogate father when she was a troubled teen. Meanwhile, having been alerted to ELF's presence by the logo they left inside the plant's supposedly impenetrable security system, authorities, including FBI man Frank Sheffield, plan a "force-by-force" exercise in which agents take on the plant's security forces with simulated weaponry. In the end, real shots are fired, Thorn's sidekick, Sugarman, gets more of the action than he bargained for, and betrayals are revealed--the great sex Frank has with a psychologically scarred Homeland Security agent from his past proves to be skin-deep. As ever, Hall is in colorful command of his South Florida setting, occasionally editorializing on the harm developers are doing to it. Compared to other mystery writers, he plays things refreshingly low key, but he's always in control, thriving on the setup as much as the payoff. The plot of Going Dark doesn't have the zip of some of Hall's other Thorn books, but with its nicely observed characters and lively dialogue--and terrific sex scenes--it keeps readers turning the pages.
From the Publisher

“Hall's latest novel, titled Going Dark proves he's one of the best genre writers working today.” —Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered

“Among the best [of Florida writers] is James W. Hall. . . . As the story spins forward, Hall builds the suspense and violence to what could literally be a breaking point for South Florida. Along the way, he treats the reader to gorgeous prose about the state's natural bounty, advances his development of Thorn, supplies multiple shocks and proves that not all of Florida's reptiles slither on their bellies.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“As ever, Hall is in colorful command of his South Florida setting… Compared to other mystery writers, he plays things refreshingly low key, but he's always in control, thriving on the setup as much as the payoff …with its nicely observed characters and lively dialogue--and terrific sex scenes--it keeps readers turning the pages.” —Kirkus

“Hall is one of those rare thriller writers who can build character as he ratchets tension, who can do no-holds-barred action scenes with panache and, in the midst of bedlam, never lose sight of nuance. All those skills are on display here, as Hall assembles a full-bodied supporting cast whose stories hold our interest as much as Thorn's attempt to save his son without helping to bring about a South Florida version of Chernobyl. A fine thriller on every level.” —Booklist on Going Dark

“Superlative….Hall steadily ratchets the suspense while seamlessly combining elements of Florida's natural history with elements of the state's early development and overdevelopment.” —Publishers Weekly (starred) on Silencer

“A damn good mystery.” —Booklist on Dead Last

“Hall's ability to evoke the deep, primeval essence of the Bay and Glades--the water, air, wildlife, feral excitement--are unmatched, and the life and death struggle that ensues is heightened and set apart by a heavy ambivalence…With his unerring sense of place, and a frighteningly sure grasp of the dark side, nobody cooks it up like Hall.” —Miami Herald

Library Journal
Thorn (Red Sky at Night) has returned to his life of isolation in Key Largo, FL, when he discovers Flynn, the 25-year-old son he didn't know he had. Trying to help Flynn gets Thorn shanghaied into a group of ecorevolutionaries who are targeting a nearby nuclear power plant. Flynn is idealistic, but some of the other group members are killers. Their selfish agendas are mirrored by a beautiful Homeland Security agent who sees an opportunity for advancement. Thorn must try to thwart the plot from inside even as FBI agent Frank Sheffield tries to cut through bureaucracy to avert a nuclear disaster. VERDICT Like fellow Floridian Carl Hiassen, Hall displays a love of his home state's landscape with criticism of the greed that threatens it, plus a fondness for unpredictable characters. Like an Arthurian knight, his protagonist ventures out of his small world just long enough to put things right in a larger one. Luckily for readers, there will be no shortage of opportunities requiring Thorn's next appearance. [See Prepub Alert, 6/10/13.]—Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Thorn Series, #10
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.52(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt




FOR AN HOUR THE MOTHER has been toiling through the tall grass searching for her newborns. The tropical night is sweltering. A lazy breeze off the Atlantic gives no relief. In a small clearing, the mother halts, surveys the landscape, changes direction. She is focused on a hump of earth overgrown with weeds.

She’s forgotten where she buried them back in April. After two months of rain and erosion and the powerful ocean winds, the contours of the terrain have changed, confusing her.

But this hump seems promising. She climbs atop it, pressing her belly flat against the earth. This feels right. This, she believes, is the spot.

She gathers herself, lifts her body off the ground, fully extended as if attempting a push-up. She holds that position, then lets go, dropping all her weight against the earth. A thump echoes across the surrounding waters.

She waits a moment, then presses her jaw to the ground to listen for their cries below the surface.

A breeze flitters in the leaves of the Brazilian pepper, frogs screech, out in the darkness two owls compete with whoops and howls, and there’s the endless slosh of water against the bank. But through all the night clamor she detects their voices inside the earth, their distinctive cheeps, their throaty squeaks. It’s them, her offspring.

She begins to dig in the sandy soil, a few inches, a few more, clawing precisely until she exposes them to the hot night air. Two of them have already squirmed out of their shells. Ten inches long. Black and tan with gold bands. Eyes green and liquid. Immediately mosquitoes and other night bugs circle, land, and begin to track up and down their length.

All this, the unfolding drama of the American crocodile locating her hatchlings, is lit by the video camera’s spotlight, which Cameron Prince operates from the bow of the airboat fifteen yards away. Onshore, crouched in the shadows only a few feet from the crocodile nest, is Leslie Levine.

Leslie shouldn’t be on land so close to the nest. It’s risky at a moment like this, but it happens from time to time and there’s nothing to do but tough it out. A minute ago, she ducked ashore to search for drag marks, the distinctive trails crocs leave as they haul themselves across the sandy banks. Seconds after she’d climbed the slippery berm, the mother croc surfaced in the canal, swam to the bank, and trundled up the steep edge.

Cameron called a warning but Leslie raised both palms to tell him to hold steady. No worries. All she had to do was hang back, be still, watch. Sure, it was dicey, but nothing she hadn’t handled dozens of times before.

Now in silence she and Cameron watch the scene unfold. The glare of the spotlight doesn’t alarm the croc. With such a dominant sense of smell and keen hearing the creature relies little on sight. As long as she and Cameron are quiet, the mother will go about her business oblivious to their presence.

This is a big one, twelve feet, almost half a ton, but she digs into the mound with delicate strokes, pushing aside the mud and marl without harming the fragile shells. An amazing creature: covered in bony plates, with jaws so strong it can crush cast iron, so hardy and resilient it can survive the loss of a leg or its entire tail, yet it’s capable of such deftness.

In the bright camera light, Leslie smiles. For years she’s been watching scenes like this unfold, hundreds of them, but she’s still as stoked as the first time. The American croc laying its eggs months before, then tracking down the right mound, doing her belly flop to see if there’s anything alive inside, anything worth digging for. When she hears their cries, she begins the careful excavation, followed by the swim to a nearby freshwater source to safely deposit her offspring. A thousand times she’s seen it, maybe more.

Oh, if she wanted to, she could drag out her notebooks, tally up the other nights like this, get the exact total. Everything was in her spiral notebooks. All penned in neat script just minutes after each event. Later on tonight, she’ll dock the airboat at the lab and take an hour or two to transfer the data into the computer and fill out the spreadsheets. Every croc they encounter will be identified, sexed, weighed, injected with a microchip, its activities listed with signs of health or battle scars, the GPS coordinates of its active nest, number of hatchlings, and all identifying markings on the mother crocs.

The two of them watch the mother finish opening the nest, revealing it to the camera’s light. After a moment’s inspection, the big female plucks two hatchlings from the nest, holding them lightly between her jagged teeth.

Next she will turn and crawl back down the bank, slide into the water to begin her swim across the canal to a freshwater pond she discovered earlier. That small, rain-filled pond was Leslie’s creation. A month ago it didn’t exist. But to be ready for hatching season, Levine requisitioned the plant’s maintenance team to use their amphibious backhoe to create the pit so the crocs in this part of the canal system would have a crucial freshwater supply.

Baby crocs needed six months to adjust to salt water. In the meantime they either found a freshwater source or died. Without that pond their only hope for survival would be to skim the shallow lens of rainwater riding atop the briny canals.

In half a year’s time, the young crocs can abandon their rain-filled pond and begin to roam. Nature’s orderly timetable: the six-month rainy season exactly matched the half year required for their salt-tolerant glands to develop.

Even though their freshwater source is ready, other challenges lie ahead. These two baby crocs have to learn some brutal survival skills: how to hunt and keep themselves cool in the relentless Florida summer, how to conceal themselves from predators, including adult crocs, who have no qualms about eating their young. And these young crocs will have to do it without coaching or protection, because after this one gesture of maternal instinct, the mother croc will abandon her babies to fend for themselves.

Leslie certainly identifies with that.

Hanging a few yards back, she tracks the croc to the bank. She’s squinting in the harsh light, trying to make out the markings on this big croc’s tail, the two or three missing scutes, those knobs of gristle she herself trimmed away years ago when this croc was a youngster, a code that will tell her where she first encountered this specimen. Most likely it’s one of many Leslie has microchipped, but tonight at such a moment it’s way too tricky to attempt to lasso the big girl and scan her chip for an update on her travels. At this point the normally shy croc is at her most protective and volatile.

Leslie is ten feet back, staying close because she wants to eyeball the coded cuts on the tail, which will tell her if the croc is one of the hundreds from this region of neatly organized canals, or from a smaller population in northern Key Largo, or perhaps it’s one of the Everglades crocs that journey to this coastal, protected habitat to lay their eggs. Charting the croc’s travels is a crucial part of the research project she’s completing this year.

Leslie picks her way forward with particular care because earlier that afternoon, as they headed out to the nesting sites, a squall from tropical storm Ivan blew through, leaving the canal bank a gloppy mess. Even in her cleated hiking shoes the footing is treacherous.

She’s wearing her usual uniform, dark jeans, long-sleeve T-shirt sprayed with mosquito repellent, and a small backpack. She’s a lean, athletic woman, thirty-two, with short auburn hair. Despite her natural agility, the steep bank is giving her trouble. Twice she slips and barely catches herself.

She motions for Cameron to keep the camera’s light on the trail before her. Maybe Cameron’s finger slips on the spotlight trigger, or maybe it’s some electronic glitch—whatever it is, at that critical moment the camcorder’s three-watt video light flickers and goes dark.

Later a Miami-Dade police detective will question him about this detail, but Cameron will be unable to say exactly what happened. He won’t remember his finger slipping. And he’s sure there were no previous problems with the equipment. Since Cameron’s recollection of the night is so foggy, the video record is crucial in establishing the timeline.

The last clear image is Leslie’s urgent wave at Cameron to keep the light focused on the path. It’s possible that move throws her off-balance, or maybe the toe of her hiking shoe snags a root, or perhaps she’s simply disoriented by the utter dark beyond the cone of light.

From the camera’s angle, there’s no way to tell what tripped her. In the murkiness, Leslie appears to throw one arm upward, then the other, as if she’s grabbing for the straps on a lurching subway. That’s the final image of her before the camera pitches skyward.

After this moment, the video image joggles so wildly it’s impossible to determine exactly what’s what. The camera swings left, then tilts up, showing the black sky, some scattered stars, a slice of moon. Cameron reported he is at this point scrambling to unhook himself from the camera straps and fumbles the equipment, sending the camera crashing onto the deck. It bounces twice, then comes to rest.

The audio recorder continues to run, capturing a splash and a grunt.

Cameron calls Leslie’s name. He sounds alarmed, but not panicked. He’s worked alongside Leslie for years and has absolute faith in her skills.

But everything changes fast. With the mother croc in full-protection mode, Leslie’s lurch is apparently read as aggression toward the hatchlings. The croc doesn’t retreat across the canal as she normally would. From the heaves and grumbles, it appears that the big croc turns on the intruder.

Leslie remains silent, no sign of alarm. This puzzles the investigators who review the footage later, but Cameron assures them her familiarity with the landscape and with crocs in general was so thorough, it’s doubtful that she was even concerned.

Maybe this self-assurance made Leslie vulnerable. She dropped her guard, didn’t expect the croc to turn and surge so quickly. Cameron could make out only the dim outlines of the moment of attack. Leslie’s headlong tumble, the big reptile’s swift move. A violent merging of the two.

The audio records violent splashes as though the animal is trying to drag Leslie underwater or tow her as far from land as possible, with Leslie fighting, thrashing. There are garbled words and heaves of breath, while the frozen video continues to show only the still and shadowy image of the grassy bank where the nest is torn open, exposing the white cluster of eggs to a milky wash of moonlight.

More than a minute of quiet is followed by splashing, and a few seconds later, a howl. A human voice that is barely human.

It could be either of them. Cameron doesn’t remember yelling but supposes it’s possible. He doesn’t recognize the scream as his own. To Cameron those moments were a bewildering blur. Shortly after the attack began, he recalls being chest-high in the canal and smacking the water with both hands to lure the big croc away from Leslie. Not heroic, he says, just a blind reaction to the horror unfolding before him. Then he remembers backing away when he thought the croc turned on him.

All that jostling of the water rocks the airboat and somehow triggers the camera’s light to flutter on again.

More silence follows, then the sound of someone slogging through the canal, and a moment later Cameron is in the camera’s frame staggering toward the bank in hip-deep water.

He’s massive, tall and heavily muscled, with short blond hair. He’s cradling something in his arms. His face is stricken and white. He claims to remember none of this. Picking it up, carrying it to the boat.

The video shows him splashing near the bow, then lifting the object and setting it on the deck in front of the camera. This human arm was severed an inch above the elbow. Around the wrist is a rubber bracelet, a camouflage design.

Cameron is huffing as he pulls himself aboard and lifts the video camera from the deck. For a moment the lens captures hundreds of glittering lights that outline the towers and the two enormous containment buildings at Turkey Point only a few hundred yards away. With all those lights sparkling in the night, the nuclear power plant appears almost festive.

Then the video goes dark.


Copyright © 2013 by James W. Hall

Meet the Author

JAMES W. HALL is an Edgar and Shamus Award-winning author whose books have been translated into a dozen languages. His Thorn Mysteries include Dead Last and The Big Finish. He divides his time between South Florida and North Carolina.

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Going Dark 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
another great book in thorn series. top suspense right to the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another excellent Thorn adventure, I wish they would make a series of movies about Thorn. He's just as good a character as Dirk Pit in Cusslers books. Can't wait to read the next one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worst ever
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sees a vole and drops into a hunters crouch she pushes off with her hind legs and bites its neck killing it she takes it back to camp