Sunday, August 14, 2011

Just another day in Paradise for Steve Hamilton

Two thrillers, both from August. There's one book remaining from July, but it warrants its own post -- and that's coming soon. Here are the thrillers:

Book 82: The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson

The Dewey Decimal System is an odd little mash-up -- a standard thriller with a post-apocalyptic overlay.  It's notable for carrying the imprint of Akashic Books, the small New York publishing house that has produced all those Noir collections as well as Go the Fuck to Sleep.

The Dewey Decimal System is set in New York City, where a series of terrorist attacks have brought the city, and America, to edge of ruin. The protagonist, Dewey Decimal, is a hired killer who derives his names from living in the New York City Library where he's attempting to re-order the books when he's not on some lethal mission.

Dewey's got skills, as demonstrated in one scene where he guns down a couple of heavies with a bit of John Wu-inspired gunplay.  But he's not certain where those skills were learned nor does he know if his memories -- spotty, at best -- are real or implanted.

The plot doesn't matter much.  There's a couple of big-time heavies -- standard Eastern European mouth-breathers -- and a dasmel in distress, who may be the most deadly character we meet. Dewey has to decide where his loyalties lies.

As I said, the plot is incidental to the action-driven narrative.  Don't be surprised if Dewey appears for act two (in a second book by Larson).  I might pick that second book up -- then again I might not.

Book 84: A Cold Day In Paradise by Steve Hamilton

What I will pick up, and soon, is the next book by Steve Hamilton in the Alex McKnight series.

I was introduced to Hamilton with a recent one-off entitled The Lock Artist. It was good, very good.   And I thought about following up on Hamilton's earlier book, but didn't until a recent vacation.

A few weeks back I drove to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan -- the Yoop -- which included an overnight in Paradise, Sault Ste. Marie (the Soo) and a visit to Whitefish Bay.

Hamilton was driving around the U.P. at the same time I was there. His McKnight series is set in Paradise, where McKnight, a former Detroit cop, has gone to nurse his wounds after he takes three bullets and his partner is killed.

A Cold Day in Paradise won both the Shamus and Edgar awards for Best First Novel. It's easy to understand why. The novel is character-driven.  Starting with McKnight, Hamilton lovingly portrays a cast that could easily have been walking around the Yoop while I was there.

Setting is another Hamilton strong suite. The U.P., including Paradise and The Soo, feels like characters in the drama. I don't about other readers, but for me it's always a thrill to read about geography I've tred.

Characters and setting. Yet Hamilton doesn't neglect the plot. He depicts a plausible series of events that threaten McKnight's life.  And even as he builds to a resolution there are surprises -- you know they are coming, but aren't certain what to expect -- that result in a satisfying thriller that leaves you wanting more.

Fortunately, there are more and I brought them all back with me from The Yoop. Just another day in Paradise.

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