cover image Hard Aground

Hard Aground

James W. Hall. Delacorte Press, $22 (360pp) ISBN 978-0-385-30797-0

Miami provides a potent setting for Hall's ( Bones of Coral ; Tropical Freeze ) expertly spun crime thriller, a dark, often funny novel with a powerful kick. The book's plot encompasses both a sunken 17th-century galleon filled with Mayan treasures and a local 19th-century homicide. On Biscayne Bay, somewhat unstable Vietnam vet Hap Tyler makes windsurfers and leads tourists through historic Mangrove House--built by his grandfather, the legendary Commodore Randolph Tyler--where he lives with his brother Daniel, an archeologist. Hours after promising to tell Hap a family secret, Daniel is found dead, apparently of a heart attack. Hap blames Daniel's lover, Marguerite Rawlings, a crusading preservationist who hopes to restore her grandmother's mill on the mid-city site where her forebear, a vehement conservationist, was murdered 100 years before. After learning that Daniel's death was also a murder, Hap and Marguerite join forces against Marguerite's mother, a corrupt U.S. senator who hungers for Mayan artifacts. Hall intertwines the Tylers' and Rawlings' pasts with evocations of rhythmic, dangerous modern Miami, whose residents include a Vietnam hero, his flashy black ex-con girlfriend and a volatile Cuban ex-cop who bulldozes his dreams of fortune in the deftly orchestrated climax. Although a few of the colorful lowlifes occasionally speak a highlife diction, Hall, in the company of Elmore Leonard, Edna Buchanan, John Lutz and Carl Hiassen, gives the Sunshine State the fictional crime stature of L.A. and New York City. BOMC and QPB featured selections; major ad/promo; author tour. (Jan.)