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.

Michael Carlson

Night Work

Steve Hamilton

Orion £18.99 ISBN 9780752873978

Night Work is the first novel by Steve Hamilton not to feature his Paradise detective Alex McKnight. Set in the isolated town of Kingston in New York State, it introduces us to probation officer Joe Trumbell, a jazz-loving boxer whose girlfriend Laurel was killed in a brutal assault two years before, on the night before their wedding. Since then, he’s been plagued with remorse about his behaviour on the night in question – paralytic drunk at a rowdy stag night. Now, at last, he has the chance to enjoy a new friendship (and possibly more) with the beautiful Marlene Frost, a blind date who looks to be something more than just a one-night-stand. But – character being fate and all that – Marlene is soon found dead, and Trumbell is once more put into the frame for her murder. The story of Night Work is how he, along with his loyal cop friend Howie, tries to prove his innocence. The reader may never be in any doubt as to the eventual outcome, but to his credit Hamilton keeps us guessing with a plot that shifts in satisfyingly unexpected ways and a denouement that is fresh, original and hard to predict.

Mark Campbell

Night Work

Steve Hamilton

Orion, £18.99, 9780752873978

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