Showing posts with label Steve Hamilton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steve Hamilton. Show all posts

15 July 2017

Nick Mason: A New Kind of Hero


by John M. Floyd




Back when Leigh, Rob, Janice, and I were writing weekly columns for the Criminal Brief blog, I did a post about mystery writer Steve Hamilton (here's a link). I had met Steve at a writers' conference a couple of years earlier and shortly afterward became hooked on his series about reluctant private investigator Alex McKnight.


That blog piece was eight years ago. At that time Steve had written seven McKnights and one standalone novel, Night Work. He has since produced three more McKnight novels, a second standalone called The Lock Artist, and the first two books in a series about ex-con Nick Mason.

Backstory

One reason I was so intrigued by Steve Hamilton when I met him is that he was (at that time) an employee of IBM--and so was I, for thirty years. I'm not saying there aren't a lot of IBM folks running around out there, but there aren't a lot of them who are also mystery writers. Anyhow, Steve showed several of us at the conference a short film that had just been adapted from one of his stories, and I've been a devoted fan ever since. I've now read all ten of the McKnight novels--which are set, by the way, in the real town of Paradise, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula--and also both of his standalone books. And a few weeks ago I finished the second novel in his new series. The main thing to report, about that, is that Steve Hamilton's fiction is every bit as strong now as it was in his very first book (A Cold Day in Paradise, which won the Edgar Award). Keeping up that kind of quality, as we all know, is not always the case. Most authors--especially crime novelists, for some reason--can't continue to entertain/captivate their audience, or at least not at the same level, after a dozen books or so.

Another thing about Steve: he's a genuinely nice guy, friendly and down-to-earth and helpful to other writers. He's certainly been kind to me.

The new series

I've already mentioned the fact that I liked all the McKnight installments and the two non-series books, Night Work and The Lock Artist (the latter won Steve yet another Edgar). But I'm really excited about his latest two novels, The Second Life of Nick Mason and Exit Strategy. Both are set in Chicago, and feature the most interesting protagonist I've seen in a long time.

Nick Mason (no, he's not a brickmason, and no relation to Perry) is a career criminal. An ex-convict, in fact, who gets out of prison on a fluke and finds himself in a position almost bad as the one he left. On the one hand, he's now a free man, but on the other, he belongs to the guy who arranged his release. "Mobility," in his benefactor's own words, "is not freedom." Nick is still in a prison of sorts, and lives at the beck and call of someone who, if not strictly and promptly obeyed, will kill not only Nick but his wife and daughter as well.

This "second life" that Nick Mason has been granted (seldom has there been a more appropriate title for a novel) is what drives this series. The first book introduces the character and his dilemma, and the next one--Exit Strategy--continues the nightmare but puts forth the slim hope that Nick can somehow get out of the impossible situation Fate has handed him. Both novels feature fascinating characters, pulse-pounding action, and plenty of plot twists.

In the words of others . . .

Here are some excerpts from recent reviews of The Second Life of Nick Mason:

"A fine premise, a vibrant setting, a charismatic anti-hero . . . It's a tight, gripping book about a man hellbent on reinventing himself against long odds."--The New York Times

"Whatever he writes, I'll read. Steve Hamilton's that good."--Lee Child

"Steve Hamilton amazes me. Every time I think he's going to zig, he zags."--Michael Connelly

"The novel more than lives up to its hype."--The Chicago Tribune

"Trust Stephen King. This book is the real deal."--Stephen King

A killer like Keller

Maybe the most surprising thing about this series is that Steve Hamilton--like Lawrence Block, in his Keller novels--somehow makes the reader care about an extremely unlikely hero. Nick Mason has a good heart, but he's still a hired assassin. And here we are, cheering him on. I plan to do the same with future installments in this series.

Breaking news: The first of the Nick Mason novels will be a major movie soon, and a recent podcast featuring an interview with Steve can be found at Wrong Place, Right Crime.  (Click on July 3: Steve Hamilton. Hint, hint: I'll be featured there on July 17, so tune in for that one too.)

That's my pitch for today. Again, the novels are The Second Life of Nick Mason and Exit Strategy. I hope you'll read them, and the Alex McKnight series as well. In other words, spend a few cold days in Paradise.

And to Steve, if you read this . . . keep up the good work.




29 October 2013

Magna Cum Murder

by Terence Faherty

I spent last weekend among old friends.  I attended Magna Cum Murder, a mystery conference that's been held in Indiana for the past nineteen years.  For at least its first decade, Magna was based at the Roberts Hotel in Muncie.  The Roberts was a great old pile from the 1920s, with a potted-palm lobby out of an Edward Hopper painting.  One of the conference legends has Mary Higgins Clark and friends singing around a lobby piano being played by Les Roberts (the PI writer, not the guy who owned the hotel).  The Roberts also had the perfect bar for a small conference: big enough to hold a bunch of mystery writers and small enough to make them rub elbows.  I fondly remember sitting at that bar with Ralph McInerny, watching a World Series game.  Can't remember who was playing.


View of the Roberts Lobby, Showing the Mary Higgins Clark Piano

When the Roberts Hotel closed, Magna soldiered on using Muncie's convention center and a collection of satellite motels.  But as the Bouchercon occasionally proves, it's hard to do a convention without a central hotel.  This year, Magna moved to Indianapolis, to a private club older than the Roberts, the Columbia Club.  Though the club is private, it was open to Magna attendees, and the result was something very like Magnas of old.

The Columbia Club, New Home to Magna Cum Murder

The driving force behind Magna is Kathryn Kennison, a great friend to mystery writers and book lovers in general.  Kathryn set Magna's classy and welcoming tone back in 1994, and has maintained it ever since.  And every year she works the miracle of drawing a big-name guest of honor to a small Midwestern conference.  This year's honoree was Steve Hamilton.  Our banquet speaker was Hank Phillippi Ryan.  They still come to Indiana for Kathryn.


Guest of Honor Interview:  Hank Phillippi Ryan and Steve Hamilton


A big advantage of a small conference for the writer is the opportunity to speak with a good percentage of the attendees.  That's assuming you "work the room," making yourself available to fans and doing such daring things as sitting down at a table full of strangers.  It's not the easiest leap for some writers to make, including this writer.  Small conferences are good for the fans and for aspiring writers (as yet unpublished writers, someone called them this weekend) because of this same intimacy.


Magna's First Panel: John Desjarlais, Albert Bell, Molly Weston, William Kent Krueger, and Unidentified Moderator 


One of the reasons I sometimes fail to work the room at Magna is that I'm too busy catching up with writers I only see there. (I'm not naming names for fear of leaving someone out.) As important as book promoting is, it's also important for me to keep in touch with writers I admire, to be encouraged by success stories and to condole over the frustrations of the writing life. This year, I even got to watch another World Series game in another Magna bar.  (And yes, I do remember who was playing.)

Two Award-winning Writers, Sandra Balzo and Ted Hertel, Jr.,and Two Distinguished
 Critics, Gary Warren Niebuhr (holding his favorite book) and Ted Fitzgerald

Next time you're on Facebook, check out the Magna Cum Murder page.  You'll see some very professional photos of the attendees and of the Columbia Club (unlike the grainy group shots reproduced here, which were made with my very small camera.)  And if you're looking for a weekend away with new old friends next fall, consider Magna's twentieth anniversary celebration in October.  Next year's details should be available soon on Magna's web site, along with an online registration form.  I'll remind you later.