Please welcome James W. Hall, author of numerous Florida mysteries and the latest lyrical masterpiece; Forests of the Night!
(For information on James W. Hall's many other mysteries, please visit his website at www.jameswhall.com )
Review and synopsis:
After reading this, the main difficulty for most readers will be where to begin to extol the virtues of this most fantastic read. Beyond great, this luminous tale grabs and doesn't let go even after completion.
It all begins more than a century ago with the story of the Great Tsali, a Cherokee Indian who sacrificed himself for the greater good of his fellow man, and the repercussions of his story that are now are in the hands of the remaining ancestors. Charlotte, Parker, and their teen daughter Gracey, a happy family at one time, now live their lives in a constant state of flux; Gracey, afflicted with schizophrenia, hears voices, Charlotte, currently a cop, but also a unusually gifted reader of facial expression is being sought by the FBI to work under their tutelage, and Parker, a defense lawyer, is grappling with his wife's sudden disapproval of his work.
And it's in this state when they are approached by a young man with a mysterious message warning them of upcoming danger. But this young man is also on the FBI's most wanted list, with his crimes appearing to be many, and his credibility near non-existent. So when Gracey disappears with him, Charlotte and Parker have no other choice but to follow the trail that will lead them down a path revealing long-held secrets, bring about death and destruction, all culminating in a fearful struggle in the beautiful setting of the hills of North Carolina.
Perfectly blending heart-stopping suspense with poignant emotions, Hall succeeds in putting forth a flawless tale of exquisite thrills. Not easy to distinguish which is better, the action-packed ride, or the emotional journey of a family facing life-changing crossroads, but either way the reader can be assured that this is one tale that is to be savored, with the only pitfall being that it eventually ends.
1. You've written several books featuring some great Florida locals, riveting action, and very robust heroes. This latest seems a bit of a departure from that, tell us, why the change?
Well, for one thing, Thorn, the character who reappears in several of my novels has been taking a lot of beatings lately and need a little time to recuperate and make some new friends (several of his former friends were killed in recent books.) But more importantly, I wanted very much to set a book in the mountains of North Carolina, a place where my wife and I have been spending nearly half the year for the last seven years, and where I spent a dozen glorious summers as a boy. Iíd also had this story kicking around in my head for sometime. A father who discovers a son he doesnít know he had, a son who turns out to be a wanted criminal. It just seemed the right time for that. Stylistically, itís a little different too. Not as lyrical and poetic as some of the Florida books. Faster, more plot twists. I wanted to try something new there too.
2. One of the most fascinating aspects of your latest title is the family dynamics found within the Monroe family, all so very connected, yet so very different from each other, what ultimately keeps them together?
I think their bond is that they complement each other. The wife puts away criminals, the husband tries to get them out. The two adults are very focused on their careers, and their daughter suddenly begins to demand a great deal more attention. All families are tested by a variety of forces, internal and external. The Monroes are tested enormously, even before their life is turned upside down by being drawn into a conspiracy that they knew nothing about before. I try to write about things that scare me, and that really scares me. That one day thereíll be a knock on the door and some aspect of my past that I didnít even know existed, grabs me by the throat and drags me out of my safe and predictable routines.
3. Each character of this family is so realistically and wholly drawn, but let's begin with Charlotte. You've obviously done some research on the deciphering of facial expressions, not just as used by the average Joe, but as a tool with value, what interested you the most about this?
I read a few articles on the subject then ordered the CDís that train you how to read micro-expressions in faces. I find it fascinating that no one can truly hide behind a poker face. With the right training, or a natural gift, as Charlotte Monroe has, people can see past the masks that we all wear. Purely as a technical writing challenge, I have long found it very difficult to describe the expressions in peoplesí faces, even in normal circumstances. So I set myself a real test in this book which is filled with facial observations. To me, thatís one of the fun things about writing. Trying to learn how to master a new technique.
4. Gracey, fascinating Gracey-worth a novel of her own, but we have to ask, why did you choose the voices she hears to be those of Hollywood greats?
A close friend of mine has a schizophrenic son who communes with Steven Spielberg. Iíve been watching this agonizing situation go on for years and felt a personal obligation to try to do justice to this very difficult condition. I remember the day very clearly when I drew a deep breath and tried for the first time to write from Graceyís point of view, in her own voice, to try to capture all those competing voices that torment her. My editor and publisher werenít real happy about that aspect. They wanted me to back off and just make her a ďtroubled teen.Ē But I held fast. I found her a wonderful character and the small battles between Hollywood greats in her mind became fun and sometimes humorous.
5. And finally Parker-defense attorney extraordinaire, so idealistic and optimistic regarding the questionable facets of guilt, how does he manage to maintain this positive belief in those he defends after so many years, and especially with his wife being a cop?
Iíve been around a few very high-profile defense attorneys and have been struck by their lack of cynicism about what they do. They either compartmentalize very well, or manage to retain a deep idealism about human nature. He was a tough character to write. I didnít want him to be a stereotype, an Atticus Finch look-a-like, but Atticus kept coming to mind as I wrote him. When he says at one point that Ďeveryone deserves a second chanceí I think that sums him up. He might know his clients are guilty, but he still retains a belief that people are essentially good or can change their evil ways.
6. And of course equally important to this story is the legend of Tsali, briefly describe this to our readers.
Thereís some debate in the historical record about this, but I choose to believe in the traditional view of Tsali. He was an ordinary Cherokee who lived with his family in such isolation that he wasnít aware that his people were being rooted from their homes and marched away to Oklahoma in what came to be called ďThe Trail of Tears.Ē So when soldiers showed up at his settlement one day, he went along with them, not fully understanding where he was headed. But when one of the soldiers prodded Tsaliís wife with a bayonet, Tsali and his sons attacked the four soldiers, killed two of them and escaped into the hills. He was branded as a dangerous insurgent. Someone who threatened the entire enterprise of relocating the Cherokees. The U.S. President offered him a deal. If he would come out of hiding and give up his life, all remaining Cherokees who hadnít yet been marched off to Oklahoma would be allowed to stay. Tsali did just that. And the Cherokees who live in those hills to this day, owe him a debt. I found that kind of altruism amazing, and somewhat relevant to political events of our day.
7. What so fascinated you about this account to go so far as to make it a focal point in a novel?
As a boy I went to summer camp near Cherokee, NC. It was the same camp my father went to and his brother. A family tradition. One of the main activities of the camp was to study Cherokee folklore. We made Cherokee costumes, learned their traditional dances, studied the culture in every way. So I was absorbed from an early age in Tsaliís story. It had a personal effect on me, and shaped to some extent my own moral universe. It was only natural that one day I would try to use it somehow in my own writing.
8. The wrongs done to the Native American are plentiful, do you feel this country has done all it can to rectify the past harms it has inflicted, and some might say, continue to inflict?
Absolutely not. By giving the tribes permission to build casinos and sell tobacco untaxed, weíve paid a kind of blood money to Native Americans. But I would argue that casinos have done little to truly benefit Native Americans, and have, in many cases caused a deterioration in the very culture they were meant to assist.
9. Of course there are no easy answers, but what might you see as a plan to further rectify the situation?
Iím not much of a public policy expert and am a bit wary of standing on soapboxes. But from what exposure Iíve had of Native American cultures both here in Florida and in North Carolina, itís clear to me that weíve betrayed these people again by turning their financial futures over to Las Vegas businessmen. As casinos prosper, the native American museums and the traditional villages that were showplaces of their former culture are neglected. Tourists come to reservations to gamble, not to honor these peoplesí customs.
10. These are characters we would love to see again, any chance of that, and if not, what wonderful adventure can we look forward to next?
The next book will return to Thorn. Iím having great fun with it. Thorn tries to make a go of living in Miami. A fish out of water. He lasts about twenty-four hours before stumbling into a major conspiracy involving LBJ, Cassius Clay and Meyer Lansky. The world of the early 60ís in Miami rises up to threaten Thorn and all that he loves. But I havenít ruled out returning to the Monroe family in some future novel. I loved hanging out with them.
James W. Hall is the author of four books of poetry, The Lady from the Dark Green Hills, Ham Operator, False Statements and The Mating Reflex a collection of short stories, Paper Products, a collection of essays, Hot Damn, and thirteen novels, Under Cover of Daylight, Tropical Freeze, Bones of Coral, Hard Aground, Mean High Tide, Gone Wild, Buzz Cut, Red Sky at Night, Body Language, Rough Draft, Blackwater Sound, Off the Chart and Forests of the Night. His books have been translated into a dozen languages, including Japanese, Swedish, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Portuguese, Romanian, Croatian, Dutch and Russian.
Several of the novels have been optioned for film and Hall has written screenplays for two of those projects. His novels have been Book-of-the-Month and Literary Guild selections . He was a Fulbright professor of literature in Spain and is a professor of literature and writing at Florida International University. He and his wife Evelyn and their two dogs, Carrie and Stella, divide their time between South Florida and the mountains of western North Carolina.