It was a cold day in Paradise when the two FBI agents came for Alex McKnight. He would not know for some time why they wanted him or where they were taking him, but the readers of “Dead Man Running” won’t mind, because the author Steve Hamilton has clued them in from the beginning.
After a long five years, Hamilton has returned to his signature crime series featuring Alex McKnight, a ex-Detroit cop, who moved to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula looking for a quiet life after being shot.
In Paradise, McKnight runs a few tourist cabins, chases bond jumpers and hangs out at a nearby saloon. His life is pretty simple, until the FBI comes for him.
Hamilton said he likes to start his books with one idea. “I wanted to put McKnight in the most opposite place you could think of from Paradise — an arid desert,” he said. “And Alex doesn’t even know why he’s there, or the dark person who has drawn him from Paradise.”
In this relentlessly dark thriller, no one, except for a master criminal puppeteer, knows the “why” until the terrifying ending.
Hamilton spoke to City Pulse by phone from Los Angeles, where he is working on a major television series set in Michigan with Shane Salerno, a Hollywood producer and screenwriter with major credits. He also is still plugging away with Salerno to adapt two of his other books into movies.
Like most Midwesterners, Hamilton doesn’t like Los Angeles. He complains about the congestion, the drought and the serious fire problems, but he knows this is where you go if you want to be in the movie business.
Hamilton wants to parlay his literary success into movie fame.
Producers like his punchy dialogue, unusual twists and cliff hanging denouements. He’s confident it will happen, because, like his characters, he doesn’t give up.
Graduating from the University of Michigan with a prestigious Hopwood Award under his belt, Hamilton went to work for IBM as a technical writer in upstate New York. It was a far cry from being an author, but, like his go-to character Alex McKnight, he was relentless.
Writing whenever he could, he created the transplanted Yooper detective, McKnight. His first book, “A Cold Day in Paradise,” won the prestigious Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Later an ingenious stand-alone novel, “The Lock Artist,” featuring a mute lock picker, was awarded an Edgar for Best Novel of the Year.
He then went on to create a new series about an ex-con, Nick Mason, who is a fixer for a criminal mastermind.
He is currently working on the third installment of the Nick Mason series.
Hamilton said his new book, “Dead Man Running,” is quite different from the 10 other McKnight mysteries.
“It’s the first time part of the story is told from another point of view,” he said. In “Dead Man Running” Hamilton had to put himself in the mind of a madman.
“It is a really evil point of view, and it’s not fun to be in that state for a long time,” Hamilton said. “Fortunately, I had Alex to come back to.”
Without revealing too much about the book’s plot, it is safe to say that in “Dead Man Running” McKnight is able to use his own instinct in solving the crime, rather than the scientific methods employed by the FBI.
“This is a thriller with the clock ticking, and no one understands the ‘why,’” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said popular culture is enamored with profiling citing one of his spouse’s favorite television series “Criminal Minds.”
“Stories have come to rely on the profiling idea too much and it gets out of hand,” he said citing two real-life cases — the beltway sniper and the Unabomber — as examples of where profiling failed.
In McKnight, Hamilton has created the antithesis of scientific method in detective work — opting for good old fashioned intuition and following the clues where they take you. In “Dead Man Running” McKnight may not know the “why,” but he is always a couple steps ahead of the FBI in tracking down a sociopathic killer.
Readers may be disappointed that his new book is not set in Michigan, but Hamilton said his next McKnight novel will be set in his beloved home state.
Following the rhythm of the series, McKnight will return to Detroit for the first time in decades and there will be a “night and day” difference between the desolate feeling of a lost city to one on a rebound.
Starting in his hometown of Highland, Michigan Hamilton will undertake a monthlong book tour to 17 cities from the Sault, to Mackinac Island and Bloomfield Hills — including a stop in Okemos at Schuler Books.
Book signing with Steve
Hamilton Wednesday, Aug. 22 7 p.m. Schuler Books & Music 1982 W. Grand River Ave. Okemos Free