Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Book Review: MISERY BAY by Steve Hamilton

Alex McKnight, the ex Detroit cop with a bullet lodged near his heart, is back with a vengeance. He's a guy still suffering over the loss of the woman he loved, still a brooding backwoods loner with few friends, still living in the ice cold, snow-bound Upper Michigan Peninsula where crime still manages to find him.

In this series by double Edgar Award winning author Steve Hamilton, the weather and the locale are uppermost in the reader's mind at all times. Hamilton has a way of describing bitter cold, snow and ice unlike any other writer. The weather becomes another character in the story. Whenever I enter Alex's world, I tuck a blanket around me to ward off the chill. I also keep a hot cup of tea handy. Such is Hamilton's tremendous talent for atmosphere.

MISERY BAY has one of the cruelest villains I've ever encountered. A murderer who kills without compunction or pity. When, unexpectedly, McKnight is asked to take a look at the suicide of college kid found hanging from a tree in a bleak place known as Misery Bay, he is reluctant. But the father of the boy just wants some answers - wants to know why his son took his own life.

Thus begins a dark journey for McKnight -  his few questions spark a general uneasiness as he learns of a second suicide. Are they connected? No one appears to think so.

But when McKnight comes upon a scene of violent murder closer to home, the FBI get involved. McKnight is sure this sudden death is a link in the chain which began with the first boy's suicide. The federal agents, however, are not convinced and warn him off the case.

When next, a double murder occurs connected to the second suicide, McKnight is convinced he's on the right track. The FBI reluctantly agree he may be on to something.

The third suicide sews it up as far as they're concerned. But still McKnight is told to stay out of the way.

But, always a few steps ahead of the FBI, McKnight can't rest (it's his nature) until he discovers the truth behind a most cunning series of cruel murders.

Alex McKnight is the sort of man who never gives up. He is relentless, indefatigable, drawn to learn the truth against all odds. Physically he pushes himself to the limit. In this area of Michigan, nothing is close by. I hunker down next to Alex (metaphorically speaking) as he drives hundreds of miles (in his pick-up with handy plow attached) just on the chance of getting some answers. He's like a dog who can't be called off once he catches the scent.

What is the link between the suicides and a small film-making company owned by an ex-con actor famed for his motorcycle road pictures? What is the link between events in the town of Bad Axe and the first suicide in Misery Bay?

Just when you think the terrible truth has been discovered, there comes another murderous attack. Finally, McKnight confronts the killer in as harrowing an ending as you will ever read.

If you're not familiar with this series, I say: make yourself familiar. Steve Hamilton is an expert mystery/crime writer who knows the unique world of the Upper Michigan Peninsula and brings it to life in these terrific books. He will also introduce you to one of the most stubborn men you will ever meet. Don't miss the opportunity.

MISERY BAY is another topnotch, unputdownable entry in the Alex McKnight series. I recommend it very highly.


  1. Hello Yvette:
    When reading this review, we are reminded of the work of Ian Rankin and the 'dreich' of Edinburgh as the atmospheric background to his thrillers. There are parallels, perhaps to be drawn with Steve Hamilton's use of snow, cold and ice to heighten the tension in his novels.

    We have not read any of the works in this series but, with winter approaching, this novel sounds just the perfect accompaniment to hibernation with the heating on full and a hot chocolate at hand!

  2. I agree with your parallel, Jane and Lance. Even if I've never read the Rankin stories, I've read ABOUT them. When atmosphrics are done well, they add so much to a story.

    Steve Hamilton is one of the best at this sort of thing.

  3. Oh, this is a great series, Ryan. My favorites are: BLOOD IS THE SKY and this new one, MISERY BAY.

    The crimes are gut wrenching, though.


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