Hell's Bay (Thorn Series #10)

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Bestselling author and “master of suspense” (The New York Times Book Review) James W. Hall combines the haunting atmosphere of Deliverance with the sheer terror of Cape Fear in his most ambitious thriller to date.


Wealthy Florida matron Abigail Bates is on a canoe trip down a backwater river when suddenly, from out of nowhere, she is held ...

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Hell's Bay (Thorn Series #10)

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Bestselling author and “master of suspense” (The New York Times Book Review) James W. Hall combines the haunting atmosphere of Deliverance with the sheer terror of Cape Fear in his most ambitious thriller to date.


Wealthy Florida matron Abigail Bates is on a canoe trip down a backwater river when suddenly, from out of nowhere, she is held underwater to drown by a strange and merciless killer…


Thorn is aboard a houseboat in Hell’s Bay when he is confronted by Abigail’s son and alluring granddaughter. Thorn soon learns that they are his long-lost relatives—and that he is about to inherit a great fortune. He’s also about to find out that being a member of the Bates family comes with a price…


As he searches for clues about Abigail’s murder, Thorn’s houseboat becomes a precarious island of safety as he and the others find themselves hunted by an invisible enemy. For someone out there knows much more about the Bates family’s dark past than Thorn does. Someone who has lived a lifetime in their shadow—and has seen the damage their wealth and influence has caused. Someone who is determined to exact revenge on the family… no matter what the cost.

“A white-knuckle thriller that draws on our deepest fears.” —Booklist (starred review)

“A thoroughly indulgent and hardy stew of a thriller.”—Miami Herald

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Editorial Reviews

Patrick Anderson
Hall expounds on such topics as the joys of creating bonefish flies, the ecological importance of mangrove roots, the toxic horrors of phosphate mining and the challenges of going one-on-one with a bull shark. Hell's Bay offers a tasty mix of rip-roaring adventure, caustic social commentary and lyrical appreciation of the beauty that still exists in Florida, despite everything.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Edgar-winner Hall (Magic City) puts a Southern gothic twist on his latest Florida thriller to feature his iconic hero, Key Largo beach bum Thorn. While helping old flame Rusty set up a houseboat deep in the Everglades as a fishing spot for tourists, Thorn becomes entangled in the intrigue surrounding the murder of Abigail Bates, a wealthy land and mine owner. Soon after, one of Rusty's first customers, John Milligan, confronts Thorn and claims to be Thorn's uncle, making him face old family secrets possibly connected to Bates's murder. Thorn's detective friend, Sugarman, at Thorn's request, starts making possibly dangerous inquiries into the crime. The appeal of this multilayered novel lies in the authenticity of its evocation of the Everglades, along with a slow-burning plot that kicks into high gear when Thorn and Rusty's guests, cut off from the outside world by sabotage, are hunted by Bates's killers. The result is another compulsive page-turner from a master of suspense. Author tour. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

The enigmatic Thorn, antihero of nine previous Hall novels (including Magic Cityand Off the Chart), finds himself embroiled in treachery that seriously disrupts his solitary life on the Florida Keys. The death of Abigail Bates, matriarch of the Bates family and head of Bates International, a family-owned business that has made billions strip mining phosphate in central Florida, reveals that Throne is a Bates grandson and heir to one-third of Abigail's estate. This answers many nagging questions concerning Thorn's history but introduces greedy family members, a revenge-seeking Iraqi war veteran, and a manipulative corporate lawyer who plots a deadly ambush in the Florida Everglades. Hall has effectively captured the beauty and fragility of the Florida wilderness and the environment-vs.-big-business issues that threaten Florida's embattled ecosystem and parleyed them into a gripping story of adventure and suspense. Despite the testosterone-laden final pages, which stretches credibility as Hall physically and mentally overcomes a near-impossible situation, this will keep readers glued to their armchairs. For popular fiction collections. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ10/1/07.]
—Thomas L. Kilpatrick

Kirkus Reviews
The author's independent fishing guide Thorn acquires a first and middle name and a family with a billion dollars worth of baggage plus the keys to the balance of the Florida ecology. The latest from the prolific Hall (Magic City, 2007, etc.) opens with the drowning of an 86-year-old granny in pink tennis shoes in a pristine stream. She was Abigail Bates, owner of a huge chunk of central Florida and, to the unhappy surprise of proud loner Thorn, his grandmother. That revelation comes from the customers of a new enterprise just floated by Thorn's ex-lover and still good friend Rusty, also a fishing guide. Rusty has commissioned a luxury houseboat and hired Thorn to guide her rich anglers to hidden Everglade lakes recently mapped from secret aerial photography. The first rich client is John Milligan, who discovered amongst his late mother Abigail's papers the existence of a nephew, Thorn. John's sister had been cut off from the family after eloping with a blue-collar employee, and the young couple died just after Thorn's birth. Accompanying John is his sultry red-haired adopted daughter, Thorn's brand new cousin Mona, who believes her grandmother was murdered. And she's right. On the first day of the cruise the fishing party is attacked by Sasha Olsen, the sworn enemy of everything Bates, including poor Thorn. Sasha is an Iraq war veteran whose nonsmoking husband died from lung cancer thanks to radiation from Bates phosphate mining. Now her only son is dying from the same ailment, and his last wish-before a Viking funeral-is the complete destruction of the Bates family. How can she say no? Saving everybody's bacon from Sasha requires considerable help from Thorn's ex-deputy PI pal Sugarman.If Thorn can survive Sasha's sharpshooting, he will be rich-whether he likes it or not. Nice performances by Sugarman and the scary villainess in an otherwise unremarkable story.
From the Publisher
"A white-knuckle thriller that draws on our deepest fears." —-Booklist Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312359584
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 2/5/2008
  • Series: Thorn Series , #10
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

James Hall

JAMES W. HALL is an Edgar and Shamus Award–winning author whose books have been translated into a dozen languages. He has written four books of poetry, a collection of short fiction, and a collection of essays. This is his fifteenth novel. He and his wife, Evelyn, divide their time between South Florida and North Carolina.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Twist for twist, curve for curve, the two-lane road tracked the ancient meander of the Peace River through the sun-battered Florida scrubland. Steering one-handed, Abigail Bates reached up and cocked her rearview mirror off-center to better ignore the white pickup riding her bumper.

She eased back in the leather seat and held the Jaguar to thirty-five and returned to spying on the river through the cypress and pines. In the full sun its dawdling current threw off a silver glow against the riverbank trees and lit the belly of a great blue heron as it slid upstream with ungainly ease. Kingfishers stood watch in the highest branches of the pines, each bird staking out a stretch of water. From the southwest a warm wind breathed through the foliage, shifting leaves and smoothing down the tall grasses.

To her mind, this landscape had a stern grandeur, but go fifty miles west and pluck an average sunbather off the white sands of Siesta Key, drop them on the seat beside her, and most would be hard-pressed to find a trace of beauty in that stark countryside. Godforsaken was how she had described it as a defiant teen, seventy years before, serving out her childhood in the land of cattle prairies, citrus groves, pine flatwoods, cypress swamps, and marshes. Back then this wilderness was home to a wealth of scrub jay, sandhill crane, little blue heron, indigo snakes, and any number of species that these days were near extinction. Extinct as well were the leathery cowmen who’d settled that land—roughneck dreamers like her father and his father before him. Although they’d never been glamorized by moviemakers, Florida wranglers like her ancestors were cracking whips over vast herds of cattle a half century before longhorns grazed the prairies of the West.

Despite her youthful scorn of that rugged terrain and its rural isolation, eventually Abigail succumbed to her old man’s coaching and learned a measure of appreciation for the hardscrabble aesthetics of the place.

Apart from the garish aberration of Orlando, the vast interior of the state was thought by most to be a desolate wasteland. Finding champions for those millions of acres of scrub and palmetto and cypress swamp was nearly impossible. Indeed, that lack of care and legal scrutiny was in large measure what allowed Abigail’s family to amass their empire.

As she steered the car around another sweeping bend, her foot softened on the gas pedal. On the gravel shoulder a bloated possum lay on its back, its paws reaching skyward as if pleading to the indifferent sun. Unperturbed by Abigail’s car, a pair of buzzards plucked at the remains.

If she’d had any sense, she would’ve braked hard, U-turned, and headed back to the penthouse on Longboat Key. She was a firm believer in omens, and if that possum wasn’t one, she didn’t know what was.

But damn it, for months she’d promised her granddaughter she’d complete this journey, take a firsthand look at what was at stake. Not that a three-hour paddle down the Peace River was going to alter her decision a whit.

Despite the prickle of unease, she pushed on, and in another ten minutes she saw in the distance her first waypoint, the canoe outfitter’s shack.

A good half mile in advance she put on her blinker for the benefit of the yahoo behind her. As she made her turn into the gravel lot, the truck thundered past and she glimpsed the driver, a woman with chalky skin and a long braid.

She parked in front of the dilapidated cabin with a rusty sign over the door: canoe safari. The man who stuck his head out the doorway at the sound of her car had blond hair that trailed across his shoulders and a scraggle of hair on his chin.

He stepped into the doorway and watched her climb out of the Jaguar. Except for the creaky knees and the steady throb in her left hip, she judged herself as supple as any woman half her age.

For this outing she’d chosen one of her long-departed husband’s fly-fishing shirts with all the silly pockets and air vents, a pair of frayed jeans, and pink Keds. She’d pinned her silver hair into a bun and fit a Marlins cap atop. In that getup and the right light she might pass for seventy.

With a squint of wariness the man watched her cross the gravel lot.

“Help you?”

“I’m looking to rent one of your boats.”

He gazed at her for several seconds as if waiting for her to break into a grin and admit she was only teasing.

She stepped closer and said, “In case you’re wondering, I’m eighty-six. I’m fully insured, but if it’ll make you feel easier, I’ll sign a release.”

The man drew a strand of hair off his cheek and looped it behind his ear.

“What’s your fancy? Red boat or one of the yellows?”

It was agreed that the young man, Charlie Kipling, would rendezvous with her downstream at the state park landing at noon and would haul out the canoe and return her to this spot. That would give Abigail a three-hour drift down the Peace, quite enough time to take in the views and remind herself what the fuss was about. All she’d have to do was paddle a few lazy strokes now and then to keep the boat straight.

After she was safely aboard a scarlet beauty, Charlie squatted ankle-deep in the water, holding the stern. He had a simple smile but seemed more weary than a man his age or profession ought to be.

She looked down the corridor of tea-stained water and trickled her fingers through the warm stream. Two canoes slipped past, father and son in one, mother and daughter in the other. The kids chattering to each other while the adults paddled, everyone snug in orange life preservers.

“It’s as lovely as I remember.”

“Oh, it’s picturesque,” he said. “For the moment, anyway.”

She gripped the paddle, waiting for him to release her into the current.

“But things keep going like they been, won’t be long before I’ll be shopping for another river.”

She held his eyes, and after a few seconds she watched them harden and grow bleak. Once again she’d been recognized.

He licked his lips and licked them again as if fetching for a curse.

“I’ll be damned. You’re that woman, Bates International.”

“That would be me. Abigail Bates. Nice to meet you.” She didn’t bother holding out a hand.

“Well, goddamn it all to hell.”

“Go on,” she said. “Say your piece.”

“I’ve seen you at the meetings, sitting with that shithead lawyer, Mosley.”

“Nothing’s settled yet.”

“That’s a damn lie. It’s a done deal. Train’s left the station. It’s already chugging down the rails; there’s no turning that big-ass monster around. From the governor on down, the fix is in. Permits approved. Those meetings are just for show. Letting people think they got a choice in the matter when we got no choice in hell.”

She sighed and shook her head and looked into the river’s wavering shine. What he said was true, of course. The meetings were a sham. The people would be patiently listened to, but ultimately the decision was not theirs. Such as it was, such it had always been. The few deciding for the many.

She wanted to reach out and give the young man a reassuring pat but felt sure he’d swat her hand away.

“This river’s been taking care of itself for a long, long time.”

“Never been any threat like this. Not even close. Already this year it’s down another foot. It’ll be a dribble before you people are done.”

Abigail stared out at the steady current. She’d heard it all before, every dire prediction.

“Anyway, it’s more than the damn river,” he said. “Way more than that. It’s where the river goes, what it does. All the people who depend on it whether they know it or not. Goddammit, I don’t believe you just walked right up and thought you could rent one of my canoes.”

“Maybe I should’ve called in advance. You could’ve written a speech.”

“Or brought my gun.”

He held her eyes for a moment, then his face went pale and he swung away as if appalled by his own rage.

Abigail bent to her bag and dug out the Beretta.

She gripped it by the barrel and offered it. She’d been shooting all her life but only lately started carrying a pistol as the death threats mounted.

“There’s no safety. Just aim and shoot.”

Charlie Kipling pivoted back and stared at the pistol. His shoulders shook as if he’d felt a cold draft across his back. He looked into Abigail’s eyes. Then with the mix of dread and boldness a man musters to snatch up a snake, he shot out his hand and wrenched the pistol from her grasp. He fumbled with the Beretta briefly before he found the grip.

It surprised her. The young man had struck her as another spineless tree-kisser with no muscle behind his convictions. But as she watched him raise the trembling muzzle and direct it at her body, Abigail drew a resolute breath and saw again that damn possum on the side of the road, a clear warning that any country girl should’ve taken seriously.

Charlie was panting, a bright sheen of sweat on his cheeks.

“If I took you down, I’d be a hero to a lot of people.”

“I’m sure you would.”

She watched his eyes flick right and left as if consulting the river spirits.

“If I thought it’d make any difference, I’d do it.”

“I’m not trying to talk you out of it,” she said.

A gold dragonfly whisked between them.

Over Charlie’s shoulder, Abigail saw a minivan pull into the lot and park beside her Jaguar. After a moment, the side door slid open and three girls leapt out followed by two young mothers in shorts and T-shirts.

Charlie glanced over at the arrivals, keeping his aim fixed on Abigail.

The red-haired woman in the lead noticed the pistol in Charlie’s hand and swept up the children and herded them back to the van.

“Hey!” the other woman called out and took a couple of steps toward Abigail. But her friend shouted and she whirled and trotted back to the van.

“You lost some paying customers,” Abigail said.

After the van screeched onto the highway, Charlie tipped the pistol toward the muddy bank and fired. Muck spattered the side of the canoe and dotted Abigail’s shirtsleeve. He gritted his jaw and squeezed the trigger again and again. When he’d emptied the clip he dropped her pistol into the shallow water at his feet where it sank to the bottom and gleamed within the swirl of mud like the flash of fish scales.

The glow drained from Kipling’s face.

“Noon at the ramp,” he said, his voice vacant as a sleepwalker’s.

Then he shoved her canoe out into the moving water and Abigail straightened it and felt the current take hold. She tested her stroke, port side then starboard, felt her heart struggling to regain its cadence.

If Kipling didn’t show, it was no tragedy. She’d phone her security people in Sarasota to come fetch her. An hour drive, no problem. But she believed Kipling’s fury was spent, and he had every intention of keeping the appointment—if only to present his case in a more calculated manner.

A hundred yards downstream she turned and looked back and he was still standing in the shallows watching her go. After a moment, he swatted at a bug near his ear, then turned back to his pine shack.

She traveled almost an hour downstream before her killer appeared.

Copyright © 2008 by James W. Hall. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 15 of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2010


    The Thorn series is quite good.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    an action-packed tale

    Leaving his peaceful Key Largo, semi-hermit Thorn is helping his friend Rusty establish a fishing oasis for tourists in the Everglades. However, he is taken aback when Rusty¿s affluent client John Milligan insists Thorn is his nephew. Preferring to ignore his so called DNA family, Thorn finds himself sucked into the drama of the drowning of the family matriarch billionaire Abigail Bates.--------------- Abigail¿s granddaughter insists she was murdered, but almost everyone else believes she died from a fortunate accident. Thorn asks his police friend Sugarman to investigate. Meanwhile an angry war veteran wants the Bates clan dead as she blames Abigail for making her billions with no regard for the environment especially of others she holds the entire clan including Thorn culpable in the deaths of her spouse and her soon to be dead son. Cut off at HELL¿S BAY in the Everglades, Thorn may be the only person capable of keeping them alive against deadly avenging predators planning to turn the Bates brood into alligator bait.-------------- The latest Thorn thriller (see UNDER COVER OF DAYLIGHT, GONE WILD and TROPICAL FREEZE) is an action-packed tale that works because readers will feel transported to the isolation and remoteness of the Everglades. The story line is obviously people trying to survive against much more powerful adversaries who have isolated the hero and others from obtaining assistance. However, there is also a secondary serious theme re the opportunity costs between competing demands of economic growth and protecting the environment. The bottom line is blood may be thicker than water, but it flows freely when you are shot as Thorn learns with this tense one sitting suspense.--------------- Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2008

    'Hell's Bay' is a wicked thriller

    In 'Hell's Bay', loner Thorn finds himself part of a family he never knew he had: that of Florida billionaire Abigail Bates, whose fortune was made in strip mining and along the way caused untold damage both environmentally and personally. Thorn is helping his old friend Rusty get her fishing guide business off the ground, and on a trek into the Everglades commissioned by Bates' son, Thorn is told that he's a newly discovered relative of the wealthy clan - and that matriarch Abigail recently drowned. Also on the trip is Abigail's granddaughter, who insists her demise was not accidental. In no time the group is attacked by the angry widow of a cancer victim whose death she blames on pollution from the Bates' mining operations. With her son dying from the same disease, this Iraq War veteran vows to destroy the entire Bates family, including Thorn. Their desperate attempt to stay alive in the swamps of Hell's Bay evokes the claustrophobic suspense of the movies 'Deliverance' and 'Southern Comfort' - high praise in my book. And the thought-provoking but never heavy-handed commentary about the necessary trade-offs between big business and the environment, especially in Florida, lift this novel above the norm for suspense fiction. Visit 'Hell's Bay' right away.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2008

    Who is Thorn?

    Those who have followed the suspensful Thorn series will finally have this question answered. Against the backdrop of the mysterious Everglades, a fishing charter led by Thorn encounters death and mayhem at the hands of a grief-stricken and demented antogonist-who turns out to have connections to some of the passengers. Not as good as 'Magic City' but a fast exciting read, highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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