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Wednesday, June 1,2011

Alex McKnight fans: The wait is over

Author Steve Hamilton restarts the series with ’Misery Bay,’ which hits stores Tuesday

by Bill Castanier

Edgar Allen Poe looms large in the writing life of mystery
author Steve Hamilton. Not only did he win the Edgar Award — named
after Poe — for his novel, “The Lock Artist,” Hamilton also contributed
to a collection of essays on Poe titled “In the Shadow of the Master.”


When “The Lock Artist” won the Edgar, Hamilton, a 1983
University of Michigan graduate, also accomplished something only four
other mystery authors have pulled off: He’s now won the Edgar twice for
his novels. 


But most fans of Hamilton don’t care about awards. They
read him because of his Alex McKnight series, which is primarily set in
what Hamilton calls “one of the loneliest places on earth,” the Michigan
city of Paradise. Hamilton’s most recent McKnight book, “Misery Bay,”
comes out Tuesday, and he described it as his darkest ever.


Fans have been waiting a long time for another McKnight
tale since Hamilton took five years off from the series to craft two
stand-alone books, including “The Lock Artist,” which was also chosen by
the American Library Association for its Alex Award, presented to the
best young adult novel.


In a phone interview, Hamilton called from the decidedly
non-young-adult city of Las Vegas, where he was celebrating a series of
50th birthdays with some buddies from his metro Detroit high school. 


“I wasn’t trying to write a young adult novel,” he said of “Lock,” “but the novel has all the characteristics.”


That includes a 17-year-old protagonist with special powers — there isn’t a lock he can’t pick — who is lost.


“He’s trapped in a world he wants to get out of,” Hamilton
said. That world includes mobsters who would like to use his amazing
skills on an exclusive basis.


Hamilton strongly believes that the five years — five long
years for fans — that he took off from writing the McKnight series has
made it better. He said he is re-launching it as “Alex 2.0.” The
computer industry reference comes from his day job in upstate New York,
where he is employed by IBM.


Fans will be shocked by  the
opening chapter of “Misery Bay,” in which the tough, emotionally and
physically wounded former Detroit cop McKnight takes on the unlikely
sidekick of sheriff Roy Maven, who has been his nemesis in the previous
seven McKnight books.


These two characters are like oil and water — or maybe
closer to Molson Canadian (Alex’s favorite brew, which is bought
directly from Canada for him) and Pabst Blue Ribbon. When Maven walks
into the Glasgow Inn — Alex’s local tavern — and asks for help, right
away you know something serious is going on.


Hamilton said writing a series is a difficult proposition
at best: “You try not to spoil earlier books, but you can’t ignore some
of it.”


In his most recent book, we learn that Alex has had an important relationship and that, Hamilton says, ”she’s just not there.”


What is there are large chunks of the raw Upper Peninsula,
represented by the land and the quirky but reliable people. The U.P.
may be a lonely place, but friendships run deep in Hamilton’s books, and
his complex plot and switchbacks in “Misery Bay” will have readers
looking forward to the next Alex McKnight book.


Fortunately, they won’t have to wait another five years: Hamilton is working on one now.

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