North of Nowhere (2002)
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Read by Nick Sullivan

That Steve Hamilton has won a following by writing private-eye novels about a guy who has no interest in being a PI is testament both to his storytelling talents & readers’ hunger for fresh approaches to this genre. North of Nowhere finds ex-Detroit cop Alex McKnight celebrating his 49th birthday by retreating to his cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he laments his personal & career failures. Eventually, though, McKnight is coaxed out with the prospect of a poker game, hosted by wealthy contractor Winston Vargas, only to have the game interrupted by armed men in masks, who empty Vargas’s safe & leave clues suggesting that Alex & his fellow players engineered the heist.

Now, McKnight really has reason to feel sorry for himself. But instead, he goes after the gunmen, along the way swapping sucker punches with Vargas, shaking down his former detective partner (who videotaped the thieves’ escape), & discovering that even his friends harbor secrets that could get them all killed.

This 4th McKnight outing (after 2001’s The Hunting Wind) is a fine showcase for Hamilton’s lithesome prose. The pace is brisk, the episodes often humorous, & the tale brims with an infectious reverence for its natural setting (”God help me, on a summer night when the sun is going down, it is the most beautiful place on earth”). If Hammett moved the detective story from the drawing room into the mean streets, Hamilton has proved that the north woods have their own potential for homicidal intrigue. — J. Kingston Pierce

No longer a cop, inactive as a private eye, classic loner Alex McKnight has retreated to his lakeside cabin in this superb yarn, Edgar-winner Hamilton’s 4th after 2001’s The Hunting Wind. In fact, Alex has become so much a recluse in the little town of Paradise in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that his few friends are worried about him. That leads Jackie Connery, the Scottish-raised proprietor of the bar where Alex sometimes hangs out, to badger him into joining a friendly power game at the home of Win Vargas. Before Alex can even work up a good dislike of the blustery, wealth-flaunting Vargas, three armed men interrupt the poker game. While Alex, Jackie & the other players are held at gunpoint, their host is led off to open a safe & his treasured collection of artifacts in trashed or stolen. From that quick beginning, events move swiftly & strangely. Alex finds Vargas’s suspicions centering on him; the police, let my old enemy Chief Roy Maven, think Jack & the other players were in on the robbery. & Alex’s ex-partner, PI Leon Prudell, turns out to have yet another take on who’s behind the robbery. Hamilton keeps the action fast & furious & manages to keep the read off balance almost as much as his hero. As usual, Alex takes more than his share of lumps as he rediscovers the importance of friendship, loyalty & courage. While Alex McKnight would probably hate the idea, mysteries this good may make him extremely popular. Agent, Jane Chelius. — Publishers Weekly 05/13/2002