ALEX MCKNIGHT IS BACK in the long-awaited return of one of crime fiction's most critically acclaimed series.
On a frozen January night, a young man loops one end of a long rope over the branch of a tree. The other end he ties around his neck. A snowmobiler will find him thirty-six hours later, his lifeless eyes staring out at the endless cold water of Lake Superior. It happens in a lonely corner of the Upper Peninsula, in a place they call Misery Bay.
Alex McKnight does not know this young man, and he won’t even hear about the suicide until another cold night, two months later and 250 miles away, when the door to the Glasgow Inn opens and the last person Alex would ever expect to see comes walking in to ask for his help.
What seems like a simple quest to find a few answers will turn into a nightmare of sudden violence and bloody revenge, and a race against time to catch a ruthless killer. McKnight knows all about evil, of course, having faced down a madman who killed his partner and left a bullet next to his heart. Mobsters, drug dealers, hit men—he’s seen them all, and they’ve taken away almost everything he’s ever loved. But none of them could have ever prepared him for the darkness he’s about to face.
Koryta: Misery Bay opens with relentless good cheer--a frigid night, a corpse dangling from a tree. And, back for the first time in a few years, Alex McKnight. Tell us a little about how it felt to be back with him from the writer's perspective.
Hamilton: It was great to be back, for the simple reason that it had been so long. Almost five years between books! I hadn’t planned on being away from the series for so long, but I sorta ended up getting lost at sea there for a while. A standalone that just about kills you will do that.
Koryta: You opened your career with seven straight Alex McKnight novels, and then followed with two standalones, including last year's The Lock Artist, which just won the Edgar for best novel. Did you always know you were going to return to Alex, or was there a time when you thought you were done?
Hamilton: I knew that, after A Stolen Season, the last McKnight book, I really needed to take a break. And that Alex needed a break, too--as strange as that may sound to say about a fictional character. I just couldn’t bring myself to drag him out of his cabin, into some new sort of trouble again. Does that make any sense?
Koryta: Absolutely! I know you don't write from an outline. What's something from Misery Bay that stands out as a favorite unanticipated development?
Hamilton: I guess that would have to be the relationship that develops between Alex and his old nemesis, Chief Roy Maven. I knew they’d have to unlikely allies in this book, but actually having them together for so long, I was surprised to see how well that worked. I wouldn’t call them good friends or anything at this point, but they definitely had to come to a new understanding about each other.
Koryta: We both got our publishing start through the St. Martin's Press/Private Eye Writers of America contest. So tell me: who's your all-time favorite fictional detective, and who is a newer discovery that you're excited about?
Hamilton: All-time favorite fictional detective? Still has to be Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder, I think. As far as a newer discovery... If you’re talking about a new private eye, I honestly don’t know of one right now. The genre has been down a little bit lately, and I haven’t read anything new and great for while. (Maybe this year’s contest winner? There’s always hope!)
Koryta: As I look over my shoulder at the Steve Hamilton section in my bookshelf, I can't help but notice some repeated themes in the titles: winter, north, ice, cold, wind. And, oh yeah, misery. Be honest: are you really that inspired by cold weather, or is this evidence that you desperately want to move to the tropics?
Hamilton: To me, when I think about “hardboiled” or “noir,” I think about cold. When just going outside to your car is an act of courage, that has to say something about you already, right? I know that Raymond Chandler’s idea of hardboiled was a sun-baked street in Los Angeles, but for me there’s just something about a frozen lake and a cold wind that will turn you inside-out.
Koryta: I’m in sun-drenched Los Angeles right now and it’s tough to argue that point. This is your 10th novel. It has been 13 years since your Edgar-winning debut, A Cold Day in Paradise. What has changed in your perspective and approach to writing in that time and throughout those books?
Hamilton: Well, it doesn’t get any easier. Or at least it shouldn’t, or else you’re doing it wrong. And I’m STILL waiting for a great idea for a book to come floating by and land on my shoulder like a some kind of beautiful butterfly. These authors who have all these great ideas that just come to them out of nowhere, I want to slap them. If I have one sorta half-baked idea that might get me through one chapter, I’m lucky.
Koryta: What's next--another Alex or another standalone? Give us a taste.
Hamilton: The publisher really likes this return to Alex thing, so they want some more of that. More importantly, I’m finding it’s pretty great to be back in Paradise. So for the next two books, at least, it’s Alex McKnight all the way! I know I’ll take breaks again and try new things, but it’s nice to know I can always to come back to see what he’s up to next.