Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Cold Day in Paradise by Steve Hamilton: A review

Alex McKnight had been a police officer on the mean streets of Detroit. Fourteen years earlier the streets had proved especially mean for Alex and his partner. They had confronted a psycho in his home and the man had killed Alex's partner, Franklin, and had shot Alex three times. Doctors had removed two of the bullets, but the third bullet, lodged close to his heart, had proved impossible to remove. Alex has lived with that metal reminder in his body for all the years since.

The killer, a man named Maximilian Rose, was caught a year later and sent to prison where he has spent all the intervening years.

After the incident, Alex left the police department on a three-quarters disability pension and returned to his home town of Paradise on the Upper Peninsula, on the shores of Lake Superior. There he took over management of a number of hunters' cabins that had belonged to his now deceased father. He took care of the cabins and lived nearby in the woods in a tiny cabin of his own that he had helped his father build years earlier. 

Alex made some friends in the community. One of them was a rich man named Edwin Fulton who had a compulsive gambling habit. Another very good "friend," at least for a while, was Edwin's wife Sylvia. Edwin never knew about their affair and often referred to Alex as his "best friend."

A local lawyer (the Fulton family lawyer) contacted Alex about becoming a private investigator and doing some work for him. After mulling it over, Alex agreed, and so that is how we come to have Alex McKnight, P.I.

One night Edwin calls Alex to come to a motel where he has discovered a dead body. The body turns out to be a local bookmaker to whom Edwin owed money. He had been shot and had his throat cut. There was blood everywhere which gave Alex a flashback to the scene when he and his partner were shot.

A few days later, another bookmaker is killed - another bookmaker to whom Edwin owed money. Do we sense a trend developing here?

Not long after that, Edwin falls off the wagon and goes gambling at local casinos. Alex is sent out to search for him. He doesn't find him but he and his lawyer-employer eventually find his car and a boat nearby on the lake that has blood on it. Meantime, a crazy letter is stuck to the door of Alex's cabin in the woods indicating that Edwin has been killed and that his body is at the bottom of the lake. It is signed "Rose." Hmmm...

Alex is convinced that Maximilian Rose is somehow behind the killings and the harassment that he is receiving; i.e., crazy letters stuck on his cabin door, red roses left at his doorstep and on the boat where Edwin's body was NOT found, and phone calls in the night. But Rose is still in state prison. Maybe Alex is the one who's crazy.

A Cold Day in Paradise was the first in this series by Steve Hamilton. He created a fairly likable character in Alex McKnight, but not necessarily the sharpest knife in the drawer. I figured out who was behind the mystery long before he did, although I admit that I got the motive wrong. 

Hamilton's writing is very evocative. I've never been to the UP of Michigan, but after reading this book, I felt that I had been there. I think it must be a wildly beautiful place, but not necessarily a paradise.

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