Saturday, April 11, 2015

Exciting Debut: PAST CRIMES, Glen Erik Hamilton

Reading another author's Facebook musings last month, I noticed her enthusiasm about a debut mystery from Seattle native (and now California resident) Glen Erik Hamilton. So I picked up a copy, and soon was in "can't put it down" mode. As many reviewers have noted, this is a very polished "first novel" -- no signs at all of being a debut. So I've got to wonder what Hamilton has already written, and where it's been published.

But Hamilton hasn't revealed that, in the dozen interviews of him that I've scanned. In fact, the only hint on his writing career is one comment that "moving away from Seattle" made him want to write about the city where he'd grown up. He also admitted to one interviewer that he hadn't actually started out with "I'm going to write a mystery" -- his adventure featuring Army Ranger Van Shaw, who's been in both Iraq and Afghanistan with the elite fighting corps, started with the relationship of Van and his grandfather, Dono (for Donovan; an Irish immigrant). Dono raised Van and trained him, when the boy showed an aptitude for it, in the trade of immaculately planned robberies, midsize to almost large. The kind that are worth doing, but never with a serious risk of being caught, because Dono is such a detailed planner and so careful to note his surroundings.

At first, it's not clear why Van left home -- just that when Dono sends the equivalent (for anyone else's life) of a shout for help ("Come home, if you can"), Van didn't hesitate to apply for leave and race across the globe.

His arrival is literally minutes too late to find out what's wrong. There's been a vicious attack on his grandfather, and the attacker is racing away as Van finds himself pinned to his desperately wounded relative, needing to staunch the bleeding and call for help. Soon he's telling his story to police detectives. And it's a sure thing that he'll be a suspect in spite of all this: His grandfather's shady record emerges right away, and Van's in the hot seat.

Complications quickly snarl around his legs, keeping Van from speedily tracking down the underlying truth of the situation. The police are naturally suspicious of whether Dono's attack came from brothers in crime; Dono's above-board business interests demand Van's attention; secrets abound. He's trying to think on his feet, as he discovers his grandfather's last phone call had been to Ephraim Ganz, a criminal attorney:
What Dr. Singh had asked me earlier that day came flooding back. Did my grandfather have a living will? Christ, was that why Dono had called Ganz? Had he known that trouble was coming?

My fingers gripped the phone, as if testing the limit of strength in my healed arm. Tomorrow was Monday. Ganz's office would be open. Or I could find Hollis.

Addy Proctor had summed it up for me: You have to do something. Or go nuts.

I was halfway to crazy already. It was time to start pushing in the other direction.
As always, what makes a well-plotted crime novel unforgettable is the intensity of the protagonist. Van Shaw's uneasy position, halfway between "trained young thief" and much-appreciated Army Ranger, perched on the edge of a wild land of his grandfather's secrets, turns him into an unlikely and uncomfortable sleuth, one who may decide that balancing the scales of justice is best done personally, rather than through the law.

One more good part about this book: The cover says "A Van Shaw Novel." That's a sure sign there's another one already in the pipeline. And in fact, a quick visit to the author's website (click here) gets you to his blog, which reveals the manuscript for number 2 is already headed to the publisher. Way to go!

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