Body Language

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In his tenth novel, James W. Hall abandons the character named Thorn, the protagonist of many earlier novels, and centers BODY LANGUAGE around Alexandra Rafferty, who makes her living as a photographer of crime scenes for the Miami police department.

Rafferty struggles with domestic problems. She takes care of her father, a retired policeman who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, refusing to put him in a nursing home. Her 10-year marriage to Stan Rafferty, once a football hero but now a disgruntled driver for Brink’s, is coming apart, and Stan is involved with a younger woman. Alexandra is haunted by an episode when she was eleven years old and was raped by a teenaged neighbor. She shot and killed him, and her father covered up the killing, but she has never truly put the experience behind her.

The plot of BODY LANGUAGE is complicated. Alexandra is troubled by a series of crime scenes she photographs, in which young women have been raped and murdered, their bodies arranged in strange positions. There is a robbery of the Brink’s truck and a murder, and the proceeds of the robbery attract the attention of a strange father-daughter pair. The stolen money passes from Stan’s girlfriend to this pair by way of Alexandra, and then to the serial killer. In the process most of the principal characters are killed.

Hall’s depiction of southern Florida is bleak but edged with a biting wit; his characters are sharply drawn, his plots are ingenious and his sense of place is acute. His only peer in his chosen locale is Carl Hiaasen, whose characters are even more weird than Hall’s.