Sunday, July 7, 2013

Book Review: "Let It Burn" by Steve Hamilton

Steve Hamilton may be one of the best crime/thriller writers out there right now. He's written 10 terrific books featuring dogged Michigan private investigator Alex McKnight, which take place in the Upper Peninsula town of Paradise (the first book in this series won an Edgar Award) and two equally fantastic stand-alone novels, the most recent of which, The Lock Artist, also won an Edgar.

Alex McKnight used to be a police officer in Detroit. After he was seriously wounded in an incident in which his partner was killed, he retired from the force and moved up to Paradise, where he rents out several cabins to tourists and finds himself (often reluctantly) in the private investigator game. One day he gets a phone call from his former commanding officer in Detroit, telling him that a man he had helped put in prison was being released after a number of years. It was a case Alex hadn't thought about in many years, because it happened just before he was wounded.

The phone call brings him back to Detroit, and the decline of the city really hits home for him. Having a drink with his former sergeant, he starts thinking about the case that could have launched his career if he hadn't been wounded. The more he thinks about it, the more he realizes he has questions about what transpired. These are questions nobody wants to hear, and Alex isn't sure he wants to know the answers, but he starts to wonder whether the right man was sent to prison all those years ago. And when other similar murders are uncovered, Alex is determined to try and help solve the mystery—and understand what happened in the first place.

Whenever I read a book in Hamilton's McKnight series, I feel as if I get to spend time with old friends. Alex is rarely sunny, but he's enigmatic, fiercely loyal, and so complex that I love getting to know him more and more with each novel. And after 10 books, his friends in Paradise are all too familiar to me—I know their quirks, what drives and bothers them, and I almost could see them in my mind's eye.

Let It Burn featured Alex in an even more angsty mood than usual, but it doesn't make him any less appealing. I thought this was another tremendously well-written and captivating book in this series, and once again, I marveled at Hamilton's knack for character development, introspection, and terrific action.

The only thing that was missing from this book, by and large, was Paradise, as the story mostly took place in Detroit. And barely any Paradise meant barely any Jackie or Vinnie, although Alex's former partner and constant guide, Leon, did make a few appearances. If the Paradise connection is what you like most about Hamilton's books, you'll be disappointed; I enjoyed getting to see this other dimension in Alex's life and coming to understand the events that have made Alex Alex.

If you're a fan of crime novels, pick up any one of Hamilton's books. I'm fairly certain that once you do, like me, you'll become hooked, and you'll find that you devour his latest novel so quickly you'll be sorry you'll have to wait for the next one.

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