‘The Big Finish’ keeps tension high with every twist

“The Big Finish” by James W. Hall (Minotaur, 304 pages, $25.99)

Living in the “shadowy world” has always worked well for Thorn, the taciturn hero making his 14th appearance in James W. Hall’s series. Living in a “primitive cracker house” in Key Largo, scraping out a living by tying bonefish flies, Thorn’s mellow persona is only a veneer for the violence that can rear when he or his friends are threatened.

Being “a hard-core loner” has suited him fine, but Thorn has recently discovered that he has a grown son and that solitary life suddenly looks empty.

Granted, he and Flynn Moss don’t have much of a relationship. Flynn grew up without a father and wasn’t interested in having Thorn fill that role. But Flynn is impressed by Thorn’s “latent ferocity,” which the young man thinks will be useful to him in his role as a member of the eco-terrorist group Earth Liberation Front.

The crux of the relationship between Thorn and Flynn fuels the gripping, action-packed plot of “The Big Finish.” While Hall’s novels have revolved around Florida’s intricate ecology and beauty, “The Big Finish” is more about the kind of man Thorn is and will be as well as the kind of father he could be, but is.

Still, “The Big Finish” pays plenty of attention to ecology, only this time the view mainly is of North Carolina and how unethical factory farming can be damaging.

Thorn has been following Flynn’s whereabouts because his son sends him a series of unsigned postcards. But the latest correspondence contains the words “help,” prompting Thorn and his best friend, Sugarman, to take off for Pine Haven, N.C., where ELF has targeted a factory hog farm that is polluting the area. But the rescue is complicated by the appearance of FBI agent Madeline Cruz, who has other plans for ELF.

Hall’s affinity for odd, yet believable villains shines in “The Big Finish,” from an ex-con who calls himself X-88 and his odd girlfriend, Pixie, to the Pine Haven sheriff – and farmer – Webb Dobbins and his sister, Laurie.

Brisk pacing keeps the tension high in “The Big Finish” with each twist and turn. Hall continues to show new sides of his perennial hero Thorn, who he has been writing about since his 1987 debut, “Under Cover of Daylight.” Hall, who retired in 2009 as a literature professor at Florida International University, again delivers a solid story with “The Big Finish.”