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by Steve Hamilton
Minotaur Books, May 2002
259 pages
ISBN: 0312268971

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

You can run, but you can1t hide. Countless writers have used that clichÈ over the years, but Steve Hamilton, in his new novel, North of Nowhere, puts fresh spin on that hoary chestnut.

As the novel open Alex McKnight, Hamilton1s protagonist through four novels thus far, is contemplating the approach of age 50 and three decidedly failed careers. Unsuccessful as a professional baseball player, a police officer shot while on the job; and lastly a private detective, Alex has chucked it all and moved up to the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to run the tourist cabins his father built many years before.

Alex wants nothing more than to be left alone and to enjoy an occasional beer in his old friend Jackie1s tavern. But well meaning friends can1t leave well enough alone and, as in Hamilton1s previous three novels, Alex finds himself being drawn into something he definitely wants no part of.

Coerced into joining Jackie and some of his fellow bar patrons at a poker game at the opulent home of a rich and obnoxious new arrival to the Upper Peninsula, Alex finds himself in the middle of a break-in robbery gone bad. When the smoke clears, one of the robbers is dead and the police believe that the robbery was an inside job.

As the police investigate all of the players in the game as suspects, Alex feels compelled to look into the robbery himself. As other violent events occur that reinforce the police1s suspicions about the robbery being an inside job, Alex is forced to question what he thought he knew about people he considered close friends.

These elements of a conventional mystery story are executed with great precision, but Hamilton clearly has much more on his mind than a simple connect-the-dots mystery. While a loner by choice, Alex McKnight is still is very much a part of the fabric of his community, by virtue of some longstanding friendships. Trying to solve the mystery behind the robbery forces Alex to look at his friends from a far different perspective than the average person ever does. North of Nowhere is, then, also a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of friendship and loyalty.

Steve Hamilton1s Alex McKnight is a worthy protagonist. His failed dreams and loyalties will resonate with readers, as will his dogged determination to see the case through to its conclusion, even in the face of the possibility that someone close to him might, at best, be a criminal and, at worst, a murderer.

One of the things that makes McKnight an appealing hero is the fact that, while being a failure on some levels, he isn1t particularly introspective or self-pitying. Resigned to the hand that life has dealt him he, by turns, decides to either play it or fold it, depending on game at the moment.

The rest of the cast of North of Nowhere also ring true; they are the kind of people the reader might1ve sat down to play poker or have a beer with. Michigan1s Upper Peninsula, not used as a setting for a mystery since perhaps Robert Traver1s Anatomy of a Murder in the mid-1950s, is lovingly and well described and is a perfect metaphor for the isolation that McKnight both feels and seeks.

First-person narratives in mysteries can be tricky things to negotiate. In order for them to succeed, the narrator/protagonist must be an engaging character, worthy of the reader1s attention. Then, the writer must credibly keep both the reader and the protagonist in the dark while feeding them subtle clues while not losing the reader to frustration or boredom. Hamilton has managed both with decided success.

Making McKnight a former policeman and private detective make him a credible 3amateur2 sleuth. It also enables Hamilton to skillfully leaven his tale with insights, observations, and stories by McKnight that move the story along nicely and believably. The reader never has to suspend disbelief about this protagonist1s capabilities in solving the mystery. The result is lively and compulsively readable mystery, with more depth and nuance than most of its competition. I finished this book more than satisfied and looking forward to Alex McKnight1s next visit.

Reviewed by Michael Grollman, June 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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