Tag Archives: Steve Hamilton

Super-Short Thumbs up for Steve Hamilton’s Die a Stranger

strangerMy life is currently very hectic, but I want to take two minutes to do a brief review that basically says, “Get Steve Hamilton’s Die a Stranger and read it!”

I discovered this author a few years ago, in the middle of his Alex McKnight series.  This gave me the opportunity to go back and read them in order.  They’ve always been well-written, meticulously plotted, and feature interesting and believable characters.  Die a Stranger is no exception; in fact, it’s a particularly compelling book.  One of my favorites in the series.  The last chapter is killer.

Hamilton has also written a number of other books – his standalone The Lock Artist received an MWA Edgar award for Best Novel in 2011; I thought it was creative and fun, but not my favorite.

I’m a little late to the Die a Stranger party… it came out in 2012.  The good news is that my delay means I don’t have long to wait until the next Alex McKnight book:  Let it Burn is scheduled for publication in July.

Lunchbox offbase on Edgar picks this year

The Mystery Writers of America has announced the Edgar Award winners!  And unlike last year, where my taste totally reflected the taste of the judges… we are not in synch.  In fact, 180 degrees difference.

I picked Tana French’s Faithful Place for Best Novel.  MWA picked Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist.   I placed this one… dead last in the running.  Augh.  A revisit of my review reveals that I still agree with my comments.   Hamilton is a great author – I’ve loved his previous series – and The Lock Artist was very creative and a fun read, but I didn’t find it to be my preference.

Similarly, for Best First Novel, my pick was Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston.  MWA’s choice: Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva.  Again, this book was at the bottom of my list.  I looked back over my review.  Yep, still agree with it.  The book has sheer verve going for it, but it’s not as edgy as I prefer.

Bottom line:  If you haven’t read all the nominees, do so!  They’re all excellent and well worth your time.  You can’t go wrong with the established authors nominated for Best Novel, including Tana French, Harlen Coben, Tom Franklin, Timothy Hallinan and Laura Lippman.

For the debut novels, you may find that Rogue Island is your favorite, or perhaps the humor and quirky characterizations of David Gordon’s The Serialist will float your boat.  All five nominees are an opportunity to expand your “must read” list.

My final take on being so wrong?  No biggie.  It’s like the Oscars.  “Predict the Oscars” contests reward those critics who are best are predicting what nominees will be selected by the Oscar voters.  I am more like the critics who pen “who should win” columns.  But even with that perspective, this undertaking is all very subjective! Still, it’s terrifically fun, so 2012 will find me doing the same thing.  Maybe I’ll even go to the ceremony!

Edgar Rankings: Who the heck is Poke Rafferty?

I had never read anything by Timothy Hallinan prior to my instantaneous purchase-by-Kindle of the Edgar-nominated The Queen of Patpong.  With nothing to hold in my hand – no blurb on the back of the book, no book jacket bio – I plunged into the the underbelly of Bangkok.  Bar girls, tough guys, and plenty of bought-and-sold.  In the first chapter, a predatory American circles and pulls in a 16-year-old bar girl, only to be stopped by a corrupt Thai policeman who is ready to let the girl go to certain torture and death – for a price.  Between the two of them, they scare the cr*p out of the girl, who takes off in a big hurry for the farm she left behind.  In the final paragraphs, it becomes obvious that the policeman and the tall American are in cahoots, with the goal of saving the girl.  And that was it.  I was hooked.

It turns out that this is the fourth Poke Rafferty novel, Poke being the tall American and Arthit his policeman friend.  Poke’s evidently a travel writer, although we don’t see much traveling or much writing in this book.  He’s married to a former bar girl, Rose, and they’ve adopted a 13-year-old named Miaow (but she wants to go by Mia).  Life gets exciting and scary when a man from Rose’s past – a seductive mercenary who has left a trail of murdered young women behind him – finds her again.  Fortunately, he’s the kind of sociopath who likes to play with his prey, because if he had just gone for the kill right off the bat, the book would have been maybe 50 pages long.

If you’re noticing, this is the fourth book out of the six nominated that hinges on action from the past.  If the trend continues and we end up six-for-six, that’ll really be something unusual.

For sheer engagement, The Queen of Patpong is tops.  The reader sees the love between Poke and Rose, the family the three of them have made together, and their friendship with Arthit.  The backstory is well-told and is doled out over time, ratcheting up the suspense.  By the time I was reading about Rose’s encounter with Howard Horner on the rocks – he has plans to kill her, but she outwits him – I couldn’t read fast enough.   It reminded me Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 – you know the astronauts survive, but you’re on the edge of your seat anyway.

Also good about the book – the bad guys were not just believable, but real, and the meta-message – that the U.S. government would protect black ops mercenaries who killed civilians for fun – was chilling, but in today’s world, also believable.

The downside to The Queen of Patpong is pretty minor:  if you haven’t read about these characters before, it takes a little catching up.   The world of Bangkok is not readily familiar, so that takes a little catching up, too.

This is quite a different novel, some mystery but mostly thriller, and Rose fills the pages.   It’s a tough call, but it doesn’t quite edge out Laura Lippman’s book, although it’s definitely ahead of Harlan Coben’s Caught.   I “amazoned” Hallinan, and I see he has quite a backlist… guess I know what I’ll be reading when the Edgar countdown is over!

Lunchbox rankings for Best Novel:

  1. I’d Know You Anywhere – Laura Lippman
  2. The Queen of Patpong – Timothy Hallinan
  3. Caught – Harlan Coben
  4. The Lock Artist – Steve Hamilton

Edgar Title Bout: Steve Hamilton vs. Laura Lippman

Steve Hamilton’s no newcomer.  He’s the author of the Alex McKnight series of mysteries sent in Michigan’s upper peninsula, and his debut novel, A Cold Day in Paradise, won the Edgar for the Best First Novel by an American Author.  I discovered it in a used book store and eagerly snapped up subsequent books.   And it’s great to see his new book – possibly a standalone, but perhaps the first in a new series? – nominated for Best Novel.

Like Laura Lippman’s I’d Know You Anywhere, Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist features a protagonist scarred by previous events.   It also criss-crosses through time.  The novel opens with a framing device – 28-year-old Michael Smith is in prison, reflecting on his life.  He says:

So hang on, because this is my story if you’re ready for it.  I was the Miracle Boy, once upon a time.  Later on, the Milford Mute.  The Golden Boy.  The Young Ghost.  The Kid.  The Boxman.  The Lock Artist.  That was all me.  But you can call me Mike.

The book’s in first person, and an engaging person it is.  Michael Smith was shaped by tragedy – at the age of 8, he was the only survivor of a brutal crime. And he hasn’t spoken since.  Raised by his Uncle Lito (of Lito’s Liquors), Mike shows an uncanny early aptitude for opening locked doors.   Through an improbable series of events, Mike ends up taking the rap for teenage vandalism all on his own, forced to “make restitution” to the victim, a guy who tries to pay off his debt to the mob by introducing them to Mike, leading to Mike’s apprenticeship to The Ghost (a long-time “boxman,” safecracker, due for retirement), a box full of pagers that go off when his skills are needed, and involvement with a group of grifters.  All by the age of 18.  And, oh yeah, he’s in love.

Excellent things about this novel:   The first-person voice is engaging, truly.  Mike Smith is totally believable, and you care about him.  The plot is fast-moving.  The Ghost is interesting.  Plus, I am convinced that Steve Hamilton can personally open any lock you put in front of him.  That’s how much he knows about locks. He makes me feel guilty about how much I fudge my research.

Weaknesses:  The plot is, as noted above, improbable.  Hamilton keeps you buying it as you go along, but it doesn’t hold up as well on reflection.  And the whole cadre of con artists were not well-developed, believable characters.

Overall:  This’ll be a great movie.

Ranking:  No contest.  The Lock Artist is a fun read, but it ranks below I’d Know You Anywhere on the Lunchbox Edgar Rating Meter.

  1. I’d Know You Anywhere – Laura Lippman
  2. The Lock Artist – Steve Hamilton