This book is my entry in the Criminal Plots II Challenge, a book written by someone from my state of Michigan. Hamilton was born and raised in Michigan, this novel takes place in Michigan, but he currently resides in New York.
A Cold Day in Paradise is Steve Hamilton’s first novel, and his first novel in the Alex McKnight series. Alex is an ex-Detroit cop who was shot three times while his partner died during the same attack. He retired and moved to his father’s hunting cabin resort near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. Six months before the start of the novel, he became a private investigator, and the novel follows his first murder case. The actual plot of the story involves Alex being stalked by Rose, the man who shot him and killed his partner fourteen years before. It’s a psychological thriller. I don’t want to give away more of the story, specifically the body count.
I cut debut crime novels, especially first-novels-in-a-series, a bit of slack because there’s a need for exposition about the character and his setting, in this case. The main body of the story is a bit slow as Hamilton gets into Alex’s backstory and environs. In part it felt slow to me because the ex-cop-with-post-traumatic-stress-disorder trope feels a bit old to me (this book was published in 1998). Also, Hamilton relied too much on geographical descriptions of McKnight’s wanderings. There are a lot of accounts of what streets and highways Alex drove as he pursued his investigation. The actual setting of the northwoods in the Upper Peninsula and the town of Sault Ste. Marie and the locks didn’t seem that vivid to me, but that may be because the book took place in the beginning of November during hunting season. It’s not a beautiful place that time of year.
The saving grace of the book is its last fifty or so pages. My guess is that it won its awards based on that ending, which set up a very interesting future for McKnight as a P.I.: he has reason to become a quite jaded and cynical P.I. based on the resolution of the case. I’m willing to read further into the series to see if it improves, which I think it does based on the sheer number of awards Hamilton has won.
And one more note about this book: Sylvia, Alex’s love interest, is a severely underwritten character. She does not have much to do, everything seems to happen to her, and she doesn’t have much of a back-story in this novel. I may need to write a post about underwritten female characters because I feel the need to vent.
A COLD DAY IN PARADISE by Steve Hamilton
Thomas Dunne Books
Publication date: September 1998