by John M. Floyd
Much has been said at this blog, both in columns and in comments, about how to write mystery fiction — short and long — and how to discover and rediscover works by authors who already do it well.
I met one of those authors several years ago, at a mystery conference in Birmingham. (I was about to say we were both on the program there, but that’d be misrepresenting things a bit. The truth is, I was a mere panelist and he was a guest of honor — a minor difference.) His name is Steve Hamilton, and he’s one of those writers who is not only good at what he does, he’s a good guy.
He’s also a person who’s willing to help other writers. Steve went to work for IBM right out of college and stayed there, so he and I have that in common, if nothing else — but we’ve never talked much about the computer business. Instead he’s given me a lot of encouragement on my “second” career, and was even kind enough to blurb my latest collection of short stories, for which I’ll be forever grateful.
The Hamilton File
Steve’s originally from Detroit, and is best known for his Alex McKnight mystery series, set in the town of Paradise, Michigan. Here’s a quick list of those seven novels, plus his latest, a standalone with a different hero and a different setting:
A Cold Day in Paradise (1998)
Winter of the Wolf Moon (2001)
The Hunting Wind (2002)
North of Nowhere (2003)
Blood Is the Sky (2004)
The Ice Run (2005)
A Stolen Season (2006)
Night Work (2007)
I once read that the chances of getting a first novel published can be compared to dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and then hoping to hear it land. (That’s probably not far from the truth.) But if you think that’s a long shot, consider the chances of also winning the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Steve did that, with A Cold Day in Paradise.
He’s also good at short mystery fiction. I once had the opportunity to view a pre-release screening of the indie film adapted from his short story “A Shovel With My Name on It,” which had been published in Plots With Guns in 2003. That short film, retitled “The Shovel” and starring Oscar winner David Strathairn, went on to win Best Narrative Short at the Tribeca Film Festival. I understand the first two Hamilton novels are now under consideration for feature-length movies.
A Vision Realized?
Steve once said, in an interview, that he closed his acceptance speech for the Edgar with the words of Tommy Lasorda when he was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame: “Who are you people? And what are you doing in my dream?”
Well, for Steve Hamilton the dream didn’t end there. His first novel also won the Shamus and other awards and was short-listed for the Barry and the Anthony, and his second novel was named one of the year’s Notable Books by the New York Times Book Review. Other awards and starred reviews followed, but he would probably tell you that the praise he values the most comes from his fans. The McKnight novels are a joy to read.
Why? The main reasons, for me, are fast-moving plots, a down-to-earth protagonist, a tight writing style, a quirky supporting cast, and a setting that’s unfamiliar to many of us: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where “anything under a foot of snow is just scattered flurries.” It’s an interesting and sometimes dangerous part of the country, and a huge presence in the stories. I can think of no other books, except maybe the Dave Robicheaux novels, that have such a unique sense of place. And unlike many other series, the McKnight saga shows no letup in quality, at least in my opinion, from the first book to the most recent.
Are any of you Hamilton readers already? If not, I hope you will be.