Book Review: Under Cover of Daylight
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
I was surprised to find that there was a "Florida mystery" series, a la Travis McGee (starting with The Deep Blue Goodbye) and even Carl Hiaasen's books, that I hadn't read or, in fact, even heard of before. This was poet James Hall's Thorn series, which opens with Under Cover of Daylight, written in 1987. Hall mines familiar territory but does it with some panache and flair.
Thorn is a lazy beach bum, with a reputation as a gifted fly maker. He sells the flies to local fishing guides, and manages to get by, living in a shack on an island near Key West in Florida. He's getting a little older and beginning to branch out a little bit, include a new romance with a local public defender. His dark past continues to haunt him, though.
As is often the case in these Florida thrillers, there are shady real estate deals, some mindless violence, passionate (and sometimes not) sex and, of course, drugs. These all begin to touch on Thorn in sometimes quite surprising ways and he is gradually dragged into a cycle of violence that almost literally explodes in the end. There are several wild coincidences and nearly implausibly far fetched connections, but somehow Hall manages to make it all seemed possible, or even likely.
The book is told in a omniscent third person, switching to the point of view of nearly all the main characters, which is normally something I don't really care for. I like my mysteries to be in first person, like Spenser (The Godwulf Manuscript) and McGee, where we get to play along in the mystery. But Hall doesn't really seem to be all that interested in mystery, as he tells plenty of the story from the villian's point of view. And yet it remained interesting and well written, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Some of the "boy, how awful has Florida gotten" whines can get a little tiring, but besides that, each point of view as its own distinctive voice, which makes the varying storytelling work.
I liked the book enough that I went to the library and got the second book in the series, Tropical Freeze. I'm curious to see how Thorn develops, because he doesn't really have the background for a mystery series. He's not a detective or even a freelance "fixer of broken things" like McGee. It'll be interesting to follow his growth. Glad I found out about the books!