Petty criminal Nick Mason was looking at spending the rest of his adult life in prison when he negotiated for a “second life.” But in Steve Hamilton’s latest thriller, “Exit Strategy,” he’s looking for a way out of that deal with a devil.Hamilton, a southeast Michigan native and University of Michigan graduate, seems to have a keeper on his hands with the Nick Mason series. The first installment, “The Second Life of Nick Mason,” is also in development for a movie.
In that book, we learned about Mason’s unusual deal with a fellow prisoner, crime kingpin Darius Cole, who arranges Mason’s release for work to be named later. That work turns out to be mostly that of an assassin, killing off Cole’s foes.
Hamilton spoke with City Pulse from his home in upstate New York, where he was preparing to hit the road for another book tour. The author kicks off that tour with a stop at Schuler Books & Music’s Okemos store.
“I always like to come back home,” Hamilton said. “I can’t imagine not starting a book tour in Michigan. It all began there.”
Hamilton’s writing career began with the Alex McKnight series, which is set in Michigan. McKnight, a fictional former Detroit police officer, becomes an amateur detective from his retirement home in the Upper Peninsula.
The author’s legion of Alex McKnight fans will be excited to learn that he has finished another book in that series.
“I’m not sure when it will come out,” Hamilton teased.
As for “Exit Strategy,” Hamilton said in his newest book, Mason finds the stakes are higher and the action ramped up considerably.
“His missions for Cole become more and more brutal, and he begins looking for a way out before he loses his humanity,” Hamilton said.
Without giving away any of the intricate plot details or thrilling action scenes, it’s fair to say that Mason has already sold off most of what makes people human. Readers must come to grips with the fact that Mason is a stone-cold, albeit reluctant, killer.
“People responded to the character in the first book,” Hamilton said, adding that he’s not sure if readers find “wish fulfillment” in Mason or identify with the “living nightmare” he is involved in.
Hamilton said he was apprehensive while writing this this book.
“The second book in any series is a challenge,” he said. “The novelty isn’t there.”
He points to author Lee Child and his successful Jack Reacher series — now at over 20 installments — as a model for his writing.
“He does a great job keeping the series alive and not getting stale at all,” he said. “You can’t just turn the crank.”
In “Exit Strategy,” Cole directs a plan to engineer his own release from prison by killing off any witnesses to his crimes before a pending retrial. It won’t be easy — and it might be impossible, since the witnesses are under protection by a phalanx of federal marshals.
By the end of the book, everything will change for Mason, Hamilton said — and that’s all he will say.
Several characters from the first Nick Mason book reappear in “Exit Strategy,” including the dogged cop who is in pursuit of Mason; Darius Cole’s female friend, Diana Rivelli, who Mason shares a townhouse with; and Mason’s sadistic handler, Quintero, who keeps him on task.
By the end of “Exit Strategy,” a new character emerges — another dangerous killer who preceded Mason in his assassin role. It’s left purposely ambiguous if this man is a friend or foe.
Hamilton said he chose Chicago as the base for Mason’s operation because of the uniqueness of its neighborhoods.
“Chicago, more than any other city, has distinct neighborhoods,” he said. “Mason is from Canaryville on the south side.”
As with Detroit detective McKnight, Hamilton sees Mason’s hometown as crucial to his character. When writing a new book, he determines where the protagonist is from early in the process.
“Where you come from is who you are,” Hamilton said.
In the Nick Mason series, Cole provides Mason with vintage — but stolen — muscle cars, including a Ford Mustang. Hamilton said his love of cars developed while growing up around the Motor City.
“My dad worked for a little while with Lee Iacocca on the introduction of the 1964 Mustang, and he got one for his mother,” Hamilton said. “I got to drive around in it. It was pretty cool.”
Author talk and book signing
7 p.m. Tuesday, May 16
Schuler Books & Music
(Meridian Mall location)
1982 W. Grand River Ave., Okemos
(517) 349-8840, schulerbooks.com