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'Black Hammock' a dark tale of family revenge on Florida coast

Meet author Michael Wiley, author of 'Black Hammock,' in Delray Beach

'Black Hammock' By Michael Wiley. Severn, 192 pages, $28.95

On Black Hammock Island, off the coast of Jacksonville, a family drama of vengeance and hatred is meted out.

Using the tenets of the noir mystery, University of North Florida professor Michael Wiley doles out a pitch-dark tale in "Black Hammock," complemented by evocative prose that pays homage to the style of Jim Thompson. But none of the characters are believable or interesting, inhabiting a dusky melee that exists in extreme noir stories but not in real life.

Oren has traveled from Georgia to his childhood home located down an isolated road on Black Hammock Island with one goal — to kill his mother, Kay Jakobson, and her husband, Walter, because the couple had murdered his father, Amon, 18 years ago. Oren was 8-years-old at the time and was rescued by a neighbor who sent him to Atlanta.

Oren has devised a complicated revenge plan, "a slow-motion war of obliteration," accompanied by his girlfriend, two acquaintances and a lethal giant named Paul, who also is his driver. Neither his mother nor volatile stepfather recognize Oren, who hasn't decided yet what will become of his 19-year-old sister, Lexi, or his autistic brother Cristofer, now 18. While Oren is sure he remembers what happened to his father, local homicide detective Daniel Turner knows only that Amon disappeared. Turner, sensing danger, keeps showing up at the house, wondering about these strangers.

Daniel is the connecting character among Wiley's three novels in his series, but the detective is so in the shadows that his contributions to the story dissipate like the black clouds that hover over the house. In "Black Hammock," the suspension of disbelief isn't effective enough to allow us to relate to these characters, whose speech and actions are part of that rarefied ozone layer of literature that doesn't translate to reality.

Still, Wiley, who won the Shamus Award for his first novel "A Bad Night's Sleep," maintains his sharp prose throughout, knowing the value of the short, pithy phrase to move the plot of "Black Hammock."

Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at

Meet the author

Michael Wiley will lead the workshop Killer Settings from 10 a.m. to noon July 16 as part of the annual Authors Academy at Murder on the Beach, 273 Pineapple Grove Way, Delray Beach. Cost is $25; call 561-279-7790, email or visit Wiley will discuss his novel "Black Hammock" at 6 p.m. July 16 at Murder on the Beach.

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