Mean High Tide

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The fourth in James W. Hall’s series of novels about Thorn, a resident of Key Largo in Florida, begins with the death of his live-in woman friend, Darcy Richards. While she is out scuba diving, she is drowned when an unknown person traps her in a bed of coral. What at first looks like an accident turns out to be a murder. Thorn and his private detective friend, Sugarman, set out to find who had a motive for killing Darcy, a former television weather person and apprentice to Sugarman in the detective business.

The trail leads to two persons who appear on a surveillance videotape taken in a liquor store. One is Roy Murtha, proprietor of the store, who turns out to be a one-time Mafia hit man. The other is Sylvie, a flaky and sexy young woman who lives on an isolated fish farm with her father, Harden Winchester. Winchester, it develops, is a former undercover agent with advanced man-to-man killing skills. He has managed to get his hands on a government experiment that has developed an experimental food fish which could be worth untold millions of dollars.

In a wild series of climactic events, Thorn and Sugarman manage to resolve the mystery of Darcy Richards’ death and prevent an ecological catastrophe. Roy Murtha, Sylvie, and Harden Winchester are not the only people involved in this resolution. Thorn and Sugarman also encounter a Fish and Wildlife agent who has lost her nose and a woman who is Winchester’s former wife, Sylvie’s mother, and Sugarman’s new lover. All of these characters are involved in the violent and destructive ending. MEAN HIGH TIDE is as well written, as violent, and as effective in evoking its locale as Hall’s earlier novels. Thorn remains an offbeat but believable hero.