Prize-winning mystery and crime fiction author Steve Hamilton has just launched the first volume in a projected new series set in Chicago. The author and the expected book made publishing history last year when Hamilton left his publisher of 17 years, St. Martin’s Press, walking away from a reported near-million dollar deal, when he learned the house did not believe in the new book. Within 24 hours, a bidding war involving 10 other publishers had begun and a lucrative deal was struck.
This newest book is already widely praised and strongly promoted; it’s being made into a screenplay even as this article goes to press. “The Second Life of Nick Mason”, (Putnam/Penguin/Random House), released May 17, 2016, centers, as did his wildly popular “Alex McKnight” series, on a deeply flawed yet intensely likeable male hero. Hamilton shines at seemingly effortless character development, with close attention to the procedural aspects of the plot; in a word, it’s great storytelling.
Publicity about the storyline has pointed out that Nick Mason, the central character, is a man just let out of prison, and given a second chance, and that’s correct, as far as it goes. Without revealing too much, however, it should be pointed out that it’s extremely unusual for a killer and a gang-member to be the sympathetic major players in a guy-buddy thriller!
Here in Chicago last week for a personal appearance at one of the independent bookstores whose support he deems vital, this very personable, immensely likeable and well-spoken author took the time to be interviewed about his life, his craft, and the new series. Some of his thoughtful, candid and direct remarks, interspersed with editorial commentary, are paraphrased below.
He has always been a writer. He worked for IBM for 30 years, writing late at night- in this way, he had written 12 books- indeed, he’s just left the position at IBM!
As to the historic split with St. Martin’s, he believed in “Nick Mason” too much to let it die out of neglect. It was a white-knuckled 24 hours, and “a really bad morning the next day”, but then he had his deal, and he’s delighted with the new launch. Richard Wenk is writing the screenplay for the upcoming film.
Although in an earlier interview, about the “McKnight” books, he commented that he was “surprised at the changes his character went through”, that was when he was learning how to write a series. With “Nick Mason”, he has “plotted out” the rest of the series- he has seven books already planned! When this reviewer asked eagerly about certain of the characters, and whether they’d be back in later volumes, I was told to wait and see- “Nothing stays the same; the characters’ have a dynamic, but it changes, and it will keep changing”.
While the “McKnight” books were told in the first person, and “Nick Mason” has a narrator, none of his books, including the extremely engaging award-winning “The Lock Artist”, a 2010 stand-alone bestseller about a young man who elevates lock picking to an art form, has a “commenting” narrator. The details are in the action, deliberately non-stop, and must speak for themselves.
A good crime writer must conduct a lot of background research. Hamilton, a great crime writer, did so for “Nick Mason” by visiting the places involved, immersing himself in “the different worlds of Chicago’s neighborhoods”, which he describes with startling authenticity- one can see oneself crossing invisible lines as the character’s drive through the streets. He also conducted extensive-and productive- research with a friend who is a homicide detective. The details gleaned from this source, including many facts about historical police corruption, richly inform the various crime scenes as well as the complex relationships in the book. Unlike many another “police procedural”, the twists and turns are made easy for the reader to race through and follow, despite the complexity of information.
When Hamilton began to write “Nick Mason”, he started at the beginning- a simplistic notion, but a subtle and important stylistic nuance. He began with the situation the protagonist finds himself in first; “Nick Mason is getting out of prison, and not only is he getting released, he’s made a devil’s bargain to do so”. Hamilton mused, “What would I do to get out” of a 25 year to life sentence? What, indeed?To find out, buy and read “The Second Life of Nick Mason”- it gives the genre a whole new spin.
For information and to purchase books, go to the Steve Hamilton website