The Braswell family had everything people would kill for: money, looks, power. But their eldest son, the family's shining light, died in a bizarre fishing accident. And when he disappeared-hauled into the depths by the giant marlin he had been fighting-he took with him a secret so corrupt that it could destroy the Braswells.
Ten years later, a huge airliner crashes in the steamy shallows off the Florida coast, killing all aboard. Helping pull bodies from the water, Thorn finds himself drawn into a bizarre conspiracy: someone has developed a high tech weapon capable of destroying electrical systems in a powerful flash. The terrorist potential is huge. How are the secretive Braswells and their family-owned company, MicroDyne, involved? And what does it have to do with the family's obsessive hunt for the great marlin that killed their golden boy?
With the Braswells, James W. Hall introduces one of the most evil and dysfunctional families in the history of fiction. And, along with Thorn, he brings back favorite characters from his earlier books, including Alexandra Rafferty and her father, Lawton Collins, a retired and increasingly dotty former police investigator whose methods of investigation result in his kidnapping. A story that bristles with all the heat and tension of a tropical Florida summer, Blackwater Sound is destined to rank among the greatest suspense thrillers of the new decade.
About the Author
James W. Hall lives on the edge of Blackwater Sound in Key Largo, Florida, with his wife, Evelyn, and his dogs, Travis and Sofie.
James W. Hall is the author of eleven novels, including Blackwater Sound. He lives in Key Largo, Florida, with his wife.
Read an Excerpt
By James W. Hall
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2002 James W. Hall
All rights reserved.
Thorn had brought along the .357 magnum not because he was worried about being attacked by pirates, but because he wanted to give the pistol a long-overdue burial at sea. Maybe have a little ceremony, just he and Casey, say a few words, something short and funny, then sling the goddamn thing out into the water. Stand around afterwards and watch the ripples die out, have a sip of wine, put his arm around Casey and hold on.
She didn't know yet about the gun being aboard. He'd told her about some of the violent incidents in his past, but if he got too specific, she always winced and turned away. Casey had inherited her light and airy view of human nature from her hippie parents. Growing up in Islamorada in an apartment above the gift shop where they sold rolling papers and hookahs and conch shells and custom-made sandals. Now in her late thirties, after years of waiting tables, Casey had started a roadside business in Tavernier, selling life-sized manatees and alligators that she made from plaster casts, then painted in garish sunset colors. The manatees and alligators stood up on their hind legs and gripped U.S. Postal Service mailboxes in their flippers and claws. She was doing well with the mailbox stands. You saw them on nearly every street in Key Largo and Tavernier. People dressed up their manatees with goggles and snorkels or straw hats, cocked fishing poles and scoop nets up against the gators. Put witches' hats on them at Halloween and white beards for Christmas. Lately, Casey had moved on to a few non-Keys animals. One of her new creations, a full-sized, neon pink buffalo, now stood like some crazed sentinel between Thorn's house and the water's edge, where it stared out at the sunsets.
The .357 was inside his tackle box that lay on the deck near where Casey was sunning. When he finally landed the sea trout on his line, he was going to let her know what he had in mind. He'd been holding on to the damn thing too long, and now that they were several hours out into the deserted Florida Bay, it seemed like the right time to dump it.
For the last two years a long string of wonderfully unremarkable days had come and gone. Each night the breeze stirred the curtains and the cardinals trilled their evening song, each morning at first light the mourning doves lowed from the upper branches of the tamarind tree, and almost every hour of the day palm fronds tickled against the tin roof like the whispers of angels. Not even the weather seemed to vary, with steady tropical trade winds pouring up from the south, a constant cinnamon-scented flow.
But even amid that unceasing peace, Thorn often jerked awake in the middle of the night, sheened with sweat, thinking about the pistol wrapped in oily cloths, tucked in a bottom drawer of his desk across the room. He thought about its history, the dark karma that clung to it. More than once he'd taken it out of the desk and walked out to the end of his dock to pitch it into Blackwater Sound, where it would sink into the silt and begin its long chemical unraveling. But something in him had resisted. Some wary voice had murmured in his ear. You are not finished with it. A bad day is coming.
But now, by God, he was determined to heave the thing away. Far enough from shore where no one would ever stumble on it. Far enough away from home that Thorn would forever be beyond its magnetic field. Today he would officially and irrevocably lay down his arms and the voice would go still, the fist in his stomach would unclench, and the days would once more stretch out lazily ahead of him, and he'd take one easy breath after the next, savoring the juicy Florida Keys air for the rest of his stay on earth.
"You going to catch that fish, Thorn, or bore it to death?"
Casey squeezed more suntan lotion into her hand and slathered it across her bare breasts. She was stretched out on the forward deck, while Thorn stood on the platform perch above the outboard. In the four days they'd been out on the water, Casey had been nude most of the time and her bikini lines had vanished. She had a narrow face, bright green eyes, an easy smile. After all those hours in the sun, her shoulder-length hair was a few degrees blonder than when they left, and even the patch between her legs had lightened. Now when he lowered his face to it, he could smell the golden afterglow of the sun along with the faintly tart citrus scent that rose from Casey when her flesh was heated.
"It doesn't feel bored to me," Thorn said. "It feels kind of excited."
Thorn cranked the reel, two careful turns. It was wrapped with three hundred yards of four-pound-test monofilament. Line so wispy, if you thought about it too long it would snap. He figured the sea trout probably went about ten pounds and it'd already stripped off two hundred and fifty yards. For the last ten minutes he'd cut the drag back to zero, letting the trout take all the line it wanted in ten-, fifteen-yard surges, then when the line went slack, the lunker taking a rest, Thorn would win back a yard or two. Letting the water wear the fish down. Water and time and the weight of that three hundred yards of fragile monofilament.
"If you used ten-pound test, you'd have that fish filleted by now."
"If it's too easy to catch," Thorn said, "it doesn't taste any good."
Casey finished oiling her breasts. Head to toe, she was now as glossy as fresh varnish and her nipples had tightened into dark buds. Thorn could feel a tingle working its way down from his navel. Things shifting inside his cutoffs.
Thorn's skiff was pole-anchored in about two feet of water over some grassy beds where schools of silver sea trout had flickered past all morning. In the last few days they'd seen dozens of tarpon and permit and bones skimming the flats, lots of rays and more sharks than they could count. The sky had been clear all week and Thorn's eyes were dazzled and aching from staring into the shallows. A good ache.
On that April morning, Monday or Tuesday, he wasn't sure, the breeze had died off and the Florida Bay stretched out as flat and silver as a platter of mercury, running off toward the western horizon where it turned into a blur of blue chrome. The air and water were within a degree or two of his own body temperature. Dipping in and out of the bay, one element to the other, he hardly noticed.
A hundred yards east of their spot, the Heart Pounder, his thirty-foot Chris-Craft, was anchored in four feet of water on the edge of the flats. Their mothership. A couple of narrow bunks, a stove, a cooler full of fruit and cheese and a few bottles of a cut-rate Chardonnay. They'd towed the skiff behind the big boat to have some way to get into the skinny water, chase the fish.
The Heart Pounder was a teak and white oak beauty. Built before Thorn was born, it was low and slow, with the ancient grace of an era when getting from here to there as quickly as possible wasn't the point. Thorn had spent all of March and half of April replanking the hull. Tearing out a dozen rotting boards and fitting the new ones into place. Harder job than he'd anticipated. Made harder by the fact that he had absolutely no idea what the hell he was doing when he started. He'd torn out too many planks, used the wrong screws, applied the wrong caulk to the seams between the new boards, then wound up having to pull off his planks and begin over. Finally he'd found a boatwright in Islamorada who gave him a few lessons in carvel-planking, and the use of bunged screws and stealers, those triangular-shaped strakes that allowed Thorn to slightly alter the hull profile. For several weeks with the old man standing over him puffing on his pipe, Thorn managed to learn just enough to get the Heart Pounder watertight again. Skills he hoped he never had to use again.
"What's another word for blue?"
"Blue?" Thorn looked over at her. "What're you, depressed?"
"No, that." Casey lifted her hand and pointed lazily up at the cloudless expanse. She was propped on one elbow now, her breasts doing nicely against the pull of gravity. "I'm thinking of doing a rhino in that color. I want the right word for its name. Blue rhino sounds dull."
"I'm tired of manatees and alligators. I'm artistically restless."
"Azure," Thorn said. "Cerulean."
To the west across the flats was a small mangrove island. Gulls dove into the shallow water rimming it. A great blue heron stood in the flats just a few yards from the snarl of mangrove roots. On the charts the island was unnamed, but he and Casey had been calling it Mosquito Junction. A dark haze of bloodsuckers that'd probably never tasted human flesh before hovered over it like an evil bloom of radiation. Last night the little bastards had followed the wisp of light from their kerosene lantern across a mile of motionless air right into the Heart Pounder's cabin to dine on their exposed flesh. He and Casey had to decide whether to douse the lantern and stop reading, or put up with the itchy nuisance. They read. Swatted and read.
"Cobalt rhino," Thorn said. "Or navy."
"Okay, you can stop. I'm sticking with blue. It's not great, but it'll do."
Casey gave him a quick, precise smile.
"You know too many words, Thorn."
"Is that possible?"
"All those books you read, you're clogged with words."
"I'm just a simple guy with a simple vocabulary."
"Yeah, right. Sure you are, Thorn. You're so simple."
"Indigo," he said.
Casey aimed her chin at the sky.
"That," she said. "That color. Whatever it is."
Casey stretched her arms, pointing both hands up at the unnameable heavens. Her breasts shimmered, taking the light and playing with it and sending it on its happy way.
"So what're we having for supper?"
"I was thinking fish," he said. "In fact, that fish. If it ever gives up."
"You like fish."
"Four days ago I liked fish. At the moment I'd kill for a hamburger."
"You're a vegetarian."
"My point, exactly."
Thorn fished for a while and Casey basked. She was excellent at it. Basking seemed to be one of her gifts. She had such a remarkably even disposition, nothing seemed to rouse her to anger or even mild distress.
For the last couple of months they'd been sharing his small stilt-house and his monotonous days. She went off to her roadside shack every morning to make her plaster animals while he tied bonefish flies. After work, he helped her unload her latest creation from the back of her ancient Chevy pickup and she set up her paints out near Blackwater Sound and spent the next few hours covering that dull gray plaster with the gaudiest colors she could swirl together.
While she painted, Thorn tied flies or crafted the wooden lures he carved for a few longtime clients who believed his handiwork had some kind of supernatural power to catch fish. God bless their superstitious butts. The lures Thorn made were torpedo-shaped pieces of gumbo-limbo or live oak ornamented with a few dabs of paint and glitter and glass bead eyeballs, nothing more or less. But if those fine folks wanted to give him cash money to carve them and sand them and fine-tune them with a little color, then fine. Go with Allah.
Last week after he'd finished replanking the hull, Thorn decided he needed a break from the routine. A shakedown cruise seemed just the thing, putter out into the backcountry, deep into the Florida Bay, and see if the dignified old lady still leaked.
It'd been a long while since Thorn had motored so far into those waters, and though he'd heard the backcountry was in bad shape, seeing it firsthand was something else entirely.
The Florida Bay was a flat, shallow basin that lay at the tip of the Florida peninsula. Bordered on the east by the upper Keys and running west to the other side of the state where its waters merged with the Gulf of Mexico. For centuries the bay had received the freshwater outflow from the Everglades and had converted it gradually to saltwater by the time it reached the Keys and the coral reefs. The eelgrass had once grown in thick beds, covering most of the bay, providing the nutrition-rich nurseries for shrimp and the other lower-pecking-order creatures. When Thorn was a boy, exploring the nooks of the Florida Bay in his wooden skiff, he'd assumed such abundance would last forever. That the water would always be crystal, that the undersea kingdom would ceaselessly flourish.
But since those days Miami and its suburbs had quadrupled in size and were trying to quadruple again and the people up there were stacked butt-to-jowls twenty stories into the air without room to turn or bend over to tie their shoes, and now that the sugar growers had intimidated or paid off all their foes and were once again happily scattering phosphorous and mercury and a long list of other unpronounceable toxins across their vast acreage, the end result, a hundred miles downstream, was that the pristine Florida Bay was now teetering on collapse.
A never-ending flood of solvents and cleaning fluids and petroleum products and every other form of exotic contamination had been oozing out the rectum of the state, a spew of caustic wastewater and runoff and overflow and toilet flush, leaching into the bay, poisoning the shrimp with its acid, overheating the water with its super-mambo genetically indestructible fertilizer spillage, causing great blooms of algae that stole the oxygen right from the water, leaving the fish to writhe and float to the surface. Decades of abuse. An endless tonnage of disregard. All of which would've killed the bay long ago if it weren't for the steady string of hurricanes bringing in their million million gallons of diluting fresh water. Nature's irony, using one disaster to neutralize another.
Because of several busy hurricane seasons in a row, the bay water was not as salty or as acidic. You could see the bottom again. Patches of eelgrass were growing. Clusters of shrimp snapped by. But there was no cause for celebration. The rebirth was only temporary. The ever-sprawling masses up the road would win eventually. They'd kill the Keys. One day soon, one of those weekend visitors would snap off the last finger of coral, snatch up the final living conch. And no matter what anyone tried to do, you could absolutely count on the fact that those toxins would continue to pump into the Everglades and filter into the bay until it was all as bleached out as the whitened bones of a desert coyote ten years lying in the sun.
This was death-throes time. Time to bring your ear close to the lips of the dying creature and hear its final rasping words. Thorn couldn't help being gloomy about it. The only way not to be gloomy was not to know it was happening or not to give a rat's ass. He'd tried the rat's-ass approach, tried it and tried it.
So he and Casey had come out on a shakedown cruise and the new hull hadn't leaked. Thorn was pleased with the hull, and a little amazed. But he was deeply disheartened by what he saw beneath the glittery surface. Last night, after two rum drinks and a long dose of starlight, he'd proposed that the two of them take another trip. Cross the Gulf Stream, go over to the islands, poke around. He'd heard about a place near Andros, the blue holes, the wall. Go diving in the deep stuff. Fish on flats where the bonefish had never seen human shadows. Maybe search out some fresh place to set up shop. A new home where the tourist Huns had not yet arrived.
Casey said nothing, and Thorn dropped the subject.
Now in the fading daylight, Thorn started in on Andros again. And those other little islands where wild goats and rats and iguanas were the only residents. He'd been down there as a kid with the folks who'd raised him, Doctor Bill Truman and his wife, Kate. They'd crossed the Gulf Stream on the Heart Pounder. It'd been his first experience with deep-sea fishing, sailfish, marlin, and yellowfin tuna. Thorn was only ten, but he remembered it clearly. Great fishing, wild landscape.
"Leave the Keys?" Casey said. "All this?"
She levered herself up to a sitting position. Naked and oiled and squinting at him through the harsh sun. He looked out at the water where his fish was taking a breather, hiding behind a rock, probably hoping this was all just a terrible dream.
"I'm ready for something new," Thorn said. "I've got an itch."
He cranked the reel, brought the fish a foot closer to the boat. Then another foot.
"I think this is the end, Thorn."
"Of you and me. Our romance."
Excerpted from Blackwater Sound by James W. Hall. Copyright © 2002 James W. Hall. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This installment in the Thorn series pits Thorn against the Braswell family after he witnesses a plane crash while returning home on his boat. As always with Hall, this is a well researched book with characters fleshed out into real people you can learn to love (or hate in the case of the female antagonist). I recommmend all of the Thorn series. Each has something different to offer and the stories are always a fast read. Start with 'Under Cover of Daylight' as it is not only a great book but it gives insight into Thorn that makes future books more enjoyable.
The book is okay. Not great. The imagery needs work and it can be a little boring.
Once again James W. Hall comes through with flying colors. He is without a doubt one of the finest story tellers in the business today. In Blackwater Sound Hall brings back the character of Thorn. I will not give anything away, but trust me it is well worth the read. Hall as always puts together a list of memorable 'characters' in this book. Go out and get it today !!