James W. Hall’s Hard Aground was published in 1992. I’m not sure how it slipped past me, since I’ve pretty much grabbed each of his books at the time of their release. I had to jump back nearly 20 years to read Hard Aground after stumbling over it browsing the stacks at my local library. Time travel has never been so much fun.
I say that because there’s a saucy tone to this tale of a hapless water rat that suggests Carl Hiassen. It’s been a long time since I’ve laughed out loud at dialogue, but I caught myself snickering over and over again, especially at a wonderfully drawn transgender thug who, as Martina, introduces her stumbling partner in crime to the joy of going slow and who, as Martin Phelps, is as cold-blooded and merciless as bad guys come.
If the dialogue and the situations remind me of Hiassen, the characters themselves would do Elmore Leonard proud. The only weak one in the bunch is the love interest’s mother, a U.S. senator who exists strictly as a foil and whose character never fully comes to life. But what a great plot Hall weaves around her.
Reading Hard Aground reminds me of why I once sought out each Hall novel as it was published. It’s jam-packed with wickedly funny dialogue, an unerring eye for the swampy funk on which the glitzy artifice of Miami was constructed, and enough history and social commentary to persuade you that a dynamite beach read can provide more than the average daily requirement of mental nutrients.