With this novel Steve Hamilton takes a break from his series of novels set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and featuring Alex McKnight, to do a stand-alone set in the less remote but no less run-down areas of upstate New York just far enough from the city to be free of affluent commuters. In this setting, Joe Trumbull’s work as a probation officer seems more like a battlefield doctor performing triage and applying band-aids to the dying than anything else. But Joe has a deeper problem: his finance was murdered two years before, while he was out on his stag night, and when a woman he’s just taken on a blind date turns up murdered as well, Joe turns into the police’s prime suspect.
As in his McKnight books, setting is all-important to Night Work: it’s at heart a thriller with an ordinary guy thrown into a nightmarish maze, much like a Harlen Coben plot, except where Coben’s comfortable suburbia is generally plagued with hidden nightmares, in Trumbull’s world the nightmares are all too obvious, the suspects if anything too numerous. The setting works as a metaphor for the character too: both Trumbull and Kingston have seen better days, seen dreams shattered, and don’t really know what to do about it, what once was solid and reassuring has become desperately uncertain, even frightening. Hey, that’s America, as they might say on The Wire.
Being more plot-driven than the McKnight books, Hamilton needs that extra depth which his portrayal of Kingston provides. A number of writers have jump-started attention to their solid series work by producing more exciting, page-turning stand-alones, and with this book Hamilton could be the latest to join that trend. He’s a good enough writer to make me hope so.
Orion £18.99 ISBN 9780752873978