Friday, June 10, 2016

What we're reading: A new series

Last year, we read The Lock Artist, by Steve Hamilton, in high school book club (for the second time--we had read it in 2011 as well, but this was a whole new group of teens). The title won an Alex award in 2011, for being adult fiction considered appealing to teens, and this one was definitely spot on, receiving one of the highest ratings from our club of any book we've ever read. The book also won the Edgar Award for Best Novel that same year. I recommend it regularly to patrons and have yet to go wrong with it.

Subsequent to having read this stand-alone novel by Hamilton, I decided to check out his Alex McKnight series that began with A Cold Day in Paradise and continued on for nine more books after that. With such high expectations after my enthusiastic reaction to The Lock Artist, I was initially a little underwhelmed by this series, but after reading several of the books I began to identify with the low-key personality of his protagonist and to enjoy his off-beat characters, situations, and settings. The books are a little dour, set on the icy cold windswept banks of Lake Michigan as they are, and given the protagonist's rocky background as a former Detroit police officer with a tragic past. They aren't typical mysteries--they're more about the people around Alex (and Alex himself) and the situations in which he/they embroil themselves. But they're twisty and interesting reads!

Hamilton's brand-new book, The Second Life of Nick Mason, begins a new series that promises to be engaging in a different way. Nick has spent five years inside a maximum security prison when an offer comes to him that will get him out of prison 20 years early. Even though he is released, though, you couldn't exactly call it freedom--it's more like mobility--because being out on the streets comes with a price that he will have to pay over and over again. Darius Cole is the criminal mastermind in charge of his every move, and Nick either does what he asks or faces consequences he should have imagined but didn't when he agreed to be Cole's eyes and hands on the outside.

I like the character of Nick Mason a lot. The back story reminds me a little bit of another favorite of mine, Robert Crais's masterful The Two Minute Rule, wherein a career criminal knows what he should do and has rules for every eventuality, but in a moment of weakness messes up his life and has to pay for it.

I found the character of Darius Cole and his far-reaching influence believable, and completely bought into that story line. His man Quintero was appropriately mysterious, and the scene-setting in Chicago, in which Nick contrasts his old life in Canaryville with the new luxury that his association with Cole brings, was a great way to explain the city to people who don't know it.

The places I had trouble with the book were in Mason's interactions with the women in his life. He seems solid, centered, and practical about the necessities of his new existence in service to Cole (he's the epitome of a reluctant anti-hero), and yet he makes mistakes with his personal life that seem to deny he can hold it together. He involves himself with an innocent woman, knowing that she will probably be drawn into his mess. He accepts his situation with his new roommate without bothering to really understand her plight until too late. And he leads absolutely everyone (mentor, criminals, police) directly to his wife and daughter, although he supposedly wants nothing more than to protect them (unless it's to reunite with them, which is his downfall). It was plausible, but I didn't feel it was quite in character with someone who has steeled himself, bowed to the inevitable, and decided to accept his new life with all its conditions.

Still, the set-up was great, there were interesting twists and great action writing, and I will definitely look forward to reading the next in this noir-inspired series by a talented author.

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