Doing their best to ensure the future of the genre, St. Martin's Press and the Private Eye Writers of America give out an award every year for the Best First Private Eye Novel. The 1997 winner was this splendidly evocative work by IBM employee Steve Hamilton, which takes just about every cliché in the field and turns it inside out. Yes, Alex McKnight was an athlete in his youth--but a minor league baseball player, not a top pro forced out by injury. And yes, he was a cop in Detroit before he moved up to the town of Paradise on the shores of Lake Superior--but even this overused genre icon is made believable by the details of a particularly bloody shootout. In Paradise, Alex runs a hunting camp built by his late father and only drifts into private investigations because of two friends, a persuasive lawyer and a local millionaire with a gambling problem who needs his help. When two bookmakers are murdered and the millionaire disappears, all the signs point to the psychopath who killed McKnight's partner and left a slug near Alex's heart 14 years before. The only problem is that this man has definitely, positively been in prison ever since. You might figure out the plot twists a page or two before McKnight does, but don't bet the farm on it. And the deep layer of details that Hamilton provides about life in this bleak part of the world add to the book's many pleasures. --Dick Adler
From Publishers Weekly
Hamilton combines clear, crisp writing, wily, colorful characters and an offbeat locale (Michigan's Upper Peninsula) in an impressive debut. Alex McKnight is a retired Detroit cop living in Paradise, Mich., on disability with a bullet next to his heart. He rents cabins to hunters and has recently taken out a private-detective license at the suggestion of Lane Uttley, a local lawyer. The book begins fast, with a lot of background deftly woven into the narrative. At a local bar, the lawyer's former investigator accuses Alex of stealing his business. Later, Edwin Fulton, the scion of a wealthy Detroit family and a compulsive gambler, calls Alex from a nearby motel where he has found the murdered body of his bookie. After Edwin's strong-willed mother hires Alex to protect the family, another local bookie is murdered and Edwin disappears, prompting Alex and the lawyer to start a search of their own. Meanwhile, Alex receives letters and calls that appear to be from the Detroit man who shot him and whom the then-cop had helped send to prison for life without parole 14 years ago. Hamilton cleverly joins the plots, leaving but one disappointment: how long it takes Alex to learn to place his trust in others with care. (Sept.) FYI: This book won the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin's Press Award for Best First Private Eye Novel of 1997.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.