James W. Hall has assembled an amazing cast of characters for this complex story set in southern Florida. There are the artsy types who work around the cable TV series “Miami Ops”: Gus Dollimore, a marginal producer/director who sees the show as his last shot at the A-list; Daniela Diamond Dollimore, his ditzy daughter and star of the program; Sawyer Moss, who does the scripting, while his twin, Flynn, plays the male lead; and April Moss, the twins' mother who writes obituaries for the local newspaper that seem connected to the serial killer's timetable.
"James W. Hall has assembled an amazing cast of characters for this complex story set in southern Florida."
Then there are the police and special agents committed to catching the culprit before he strikes again. They include Daniel Thorn, a reclusive investigator who is recovering from losing the love of his life, his wife of one month, to cancer; Frank Sheffield, a special agent who still thinks that Thorn has what it takes to help him on this case; and Buddha Hilton, a small town sheriff from Oklahoma who comes to Florida tracking a killer who might be the same one the Miami police are after.
Hall has a way with dialogue that zeroes in perfectly on the character who is speaking. They include both the most likable and most despicable characters in the story. For example, director Gus Dollimore is speaking to his writer, Sawyer Moss: "Let me tell you how it works. Two strikes, you're done. You, my boy, got your first strike writing “Miami Ops,” which at this moment is dead last in its slot, a serious stinker. Throw in another strike, like even a hint of you being a suspect in a string of murders. You'll never blow your nose near a TV script again."
As in many of the best stories, things are not always as they seem. And that's exactly what keeps the reader guessing until the very last chapter. What is the killer's motivation? Is it the result of some choices made years ago that are now beginning to surface? Is someone connected to the show trying to boost ratings by keeping “Miami Ops” on the front pages? Are there secrets that have not yet been exposed? Hall deftly reveals the answers in a way that often leads the reader on a merry mind chase. Yet, once the killer is exposed, we might give ourselves a head slap for not seeing it sooner.
James W. Hall is a prolific writer who has enjoyed success in many areas of the craft, from poetry to mysteries and from essays to short stories. He has been given kudos by the best of today's mystery writers, including James Lee Burke, who says, "I believe no one has written more lyrically about the Gulf stream since Ernest Hemingway." DEAD LAST is sure to satisfy his fans and win him many new ones, myself included.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on January 12, 2012