It has been riveting over the years to watch the development of Thorn as a character, this in spite of the tragedies he has experienced over the course of his literary life. GOING DARK is the 10th book in the series, and while it is not necessarily his best work, it is anything but a disappointment.
Author James W. Hall is seemingly incapable of writing badly, and his latest contains some of his best descriptive passages to date. The backdrop of the story is the Florida wilderness where Thorn has ensconced himself in order to achieve some peace through isolation, which he has accomplished with varying degrees of success. The first lesson the book presents is that nature is equally beautiful and dangerous, when Thorn learns of a tragic event in the wild concerning someone from his past. Almost simultaneously, he is slowly but inevitably --- and yes, reluctantly --- propelled into a dangerous situation that has the potential to change his life forever.
"Hall’s description of the Florida wild is worth the price of admission alone. He also displays a penchant for lobbing a surprise hand grenade or two at regular points throughout the narrative, ones that resonate through the book and beyond as well."
Thorn finds himself on an intersecting course with a self-styled radical environmental group called the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). This would be bad enough in and of itself, but his distress is magnified a hundredfold when he learns that Flynn Moss --- the son he only recently discovered he had --- is deeply enmeshed with the group. ELF is planning a major attack upon Turkey Point, a nuclear power plant that serves the Miami metropolitan area and is also the largest such facility in the state. The intent of the ragtag group of misguided malcontents is supposedly to do just enough damage to the plant to shut it down for a few days and thus get their point across to the South Florida residents who are serviced by the facility. There are some members of the small group, however, who have a much more dramatic --- and destructive --- agenda in mind, one that will change South Florida for the foreseeable future if they are successful.
When he discovers that Moss has been drawn into the group, Thorn interjects himself into the situation only to find himself involuntarily becoming a part of it. Forced to go along for the ride, so to speak, Thorn has to strike a delicate balance between protecting Moss (who does not want his protection) and seeming to go along with the group’s outward agenda while doing everything he can to prevent it.
Meanwhile, Frank Sheffield, an aging FBI agent assigned to the local office and an acquaintance of Thorn, is on a collision course with the group, even as he is totally unaware of Thorn’s involvement with ELF. As the ultimate scenario plays out and results in a potentially disastrous finale, Thorn uncovers some uncomfortable and life-changing truths, even as he risks everything to prevent the calamity that will almost certainly result if ELF’s agenda is successful.
There are a couple of elements that cause GOING DARK to drag slightly in spots. I could have done with a bit more of Thorn during the narrative. Thorn is a multi-faceted and complicated character who continues to develop book by book, but he seemed to be missing in action during parts of the narrative. In addition, Sheffield unfortunately is demonstrably a bit past his use-by date as an FBI agent. I would like to see more of him in the future, though in a retired capacity. Still, there is much to love here. Hall’s description of the Florida wild is worth the price of admission alone. He also displays a penchant for lobbing a surprise hand grenade or two at regular points throughout the narrative, ones that resonate through the book and beyond as well.
With GOING DARK, James W. Hall continues to make the Thorn chronicles a must-read series that has earned its loyal audience and deserves a larger one.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 20, 2013