The Mystery Writers of America nominees for Best First Novel by an American author include Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut, Past Crimes. The book is sure to become the first of a series. (For one thing, Amazon listing says Van Shaw #1, implying #2, #3, #4…)
Obviously Hamilton’s protagonist is Van Shaw, a hard-bodied and quick-witted Army Ranger on leave. He’s come home to Seattle to make peace with his grandfather, Donovan Shaw, known as Dono. No surprise that the hidden message is that Dono and Van are just two sides to the same coin!
And here’s the coin: Dono and Shaw are not just grandfather and grandson, but former partners in crime. Dono was well-known for his all-around skills for burglary and robbery, and he passed those skills on to Shaw. By high school graduation, Shaw was skilled at picking locks, casing joints, and committing crimes. Still, it wasn’t his fault when his not-so-bright and less-able friend Davey got mixed up with the wrong crowd and called Shaw for help. The whole thing went south, Shaw covered for Davey, Dono blamed Shaw, Shaw took off and joined the Army.
Fast forward ten years, and Shaw’s back, pulling up to his grandfather’s house. He’d received a short note from Dono – “Come home, if you can.” But when he enters, he finds Dono lying in a puddle of blood on the floor. Unraveling who shot him – and why – becomes Shaw’s quest. In so doing, he bumps up against many of his grandfather’s colleagues, friends, and enemies; a couple of cops; an old girlfriend, Lucy; and of course, Davey. He also figures out Dono’s last score and unearths some family secrets.
All in all, Past Crimes is a credible debut. The plot and the pacing are good, and characters generally well-developed, although not as well as they will be after several more books in the series. (Lucy could use some work!) Experienced readers will have suspicions about who shot Dono, and to Hamilton’s credit, he gives us several credible suspects. The Army angle is not fully explored, it reads as a good way to get Shaw out of the picture for ten years, and his potential problems for not reporting as ordered are swept aside. Overall, thumbs up.
First reviewed, so it’s top-ranked! Enjoy it while it lasts…
Literary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best First Novel
- Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton