It’s the last stop on the Glen Erik Hamilton blog tour to promote his debut thriller Past Crimes. I’m delighted to be hosting a special post by Glen on why crime is his chosen genre and my review of the book follows. It’s no exaggeration to say that you’re going to love this debut…
Why I Write About Crime
“About as early as I can remember, I would look for the cameras. The bank cameras, that is, which used to be tucked away discreetly in the corners, watching and recording in case anyone decided to make an unauthorized withdrawal. As a boy, I found the whole concept of security – from castle moats to bank vaults – fascinating. How do they prevent crime? Or, maybe more intriguingly, what are their limits?
Nowadays that spot-the-camera game isn’t much fun. The cameras are very obvious, even showing their feeds on monitors to the customers, to further discourage crime and promote paranoia. And the little black ceiling bubbles with eyes within are so ubiquitous that it’s a lot harder to count them than find them.
Still, the question lingers: How exactly could one solve that particular puzzle? Disguises? Smoke screen? Hoodies with stealth technology woven right in?
That example obviously had nefarious ends in mind. But not all flouting of the law is so nefarious. On my first trip to Ireland, I made some new friends (easy enough in that land famed for good conversation) and we went out after their workday for dinner and a pint. The pint turned into a few litres as the night went on, and I became acquainted with the brilliant custom of the lock-in.
I’m aware that I’m writing this for a readership largely in the UK, who may have understood lock-ins long before reaching their own drinking age. I hope those crafty veterans will bear with my naïve enthusiasm.
But for those readers who are unfamiliar: UK law states that pubs and other venues offering alcohol must stop serving at 11:00 at night, and of course, that’s the natural closing time for most. However, there’s nothing that says a pub owner can’t give drinks to a few friends after he or she closes up shop for the night. And if the friends happen to leave a few bills on the bar in appreciation, before the official closing time, that’s entirely up to them. The locked door simply makes sure that the private party isn’t interrupted by customers. Because that would be illegal. Occasionally a member of the Garda (the police) might pop by to share a drink, while off-duty of course, and make sure that the deadbolt on the door is working properly.
Illegal? Arguably, as it’s skirting the rules. Malevolent? Hardly. If anything, the shared wink at the formal law seems to bring small communities and neighborhoods together. In any event, I love the whole idea, and not just because it ends with me having another Guinness. It’s fun to break the rules, so long as no one suffers. Or goes thirsty.
I wouldn’t really want to hijack an armored car, or steal an entire warehouse, or melt the gilt off of cathedral spires. But it is hugely fun to think of solutions to puzzles like these, and then write about them. Breaking the rules, without anyone the worse off for it. And all my crimes confined to the page. Honest, Officer.
Now about that pint…”
A native of Seattle, Glen Erik Hamilton grew up aboard a sailboat, and spent his youth finding trouble around the marinas and commercial docks and islands of the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in California with his family, punctuated by frequent visits to his hometown to soak up the rain. He is currently working on his second novel featuring Van Shaw and Seattle’s criminal underworld. Follow the author on Twitter @GlenErikH and visit his website here
Van Shaw was raised to be a thief, but at eighteen he suddenly broke all ties to that life and joined the military—abandoning his illicit past and the career-criminal grandfather who taught him the trade. Now, after ten years of silence, his grandfather has asked him to come home to Seattle. But when Van arrives, he discovers his grandfather bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, Van knows he’s the main suspect. The only way he can clear his name is to go back to the world he’d sworn to leave behind. Tapping into his criminal skills, he begins to hunt the shooter and uncover what drove his grandfather to reach out after so long. But in a violent, high-stakes world where right and wrong aren’t defined by the law, Van finds that the past is all too present . . . and that the secrets held by those closest to him are the deadliest of all.
I was really quite taken with this debut from Hamilton, I must confess. As regular readers of my reviews know, I am always keen to discover new American writers and what appealed to me about Hamilton was the way that his book neatly bypassed the more simple label of ‘thriller’ and instead, through the strength of his characterisation and observation, was on a par with the very best of American contemporary fiction.
With his main character returning from military service to his old stomping ground and Hamilton’s solid depiction of Shaw’s Seattle neighbourhood, I would have no hesitation in putting this in the same league as Dennis Lehane or George Pelecanos, whose assured grip of the socio-economic representations of the neighbourhoods they depict, add another level to the reader’s experience. Supported by the extremely well-worked double timeline, I was utterly engaged throughout the whole book. The use of the contrasting timelines subtly speeded up or slowed down the reading experience, giving an undulating sense of pace to the book overall to great effect. Sometimes it is easy to be engaged more with one timeline than another, but I found that each enriched the enjoyment of the other, as truths were revealed and we got drawn deeper into the trials and tribulations of Shaw’s world…
I thoroughly enjoyed the way that Hamilton slowly built up a complete picture of Shaw from his troubled childhood, to his teenage years kicking around with best friend Davey, and the ‘criminal’ schooling by his gruff grandfather Dono. Shaw’s formative years are a turbulent affair, interspersed by his grandfather’s criminal activities and incarceration, but we as readers, embark on a journey with Shaw as the light and shade of his character come into sharp focus. The oscillating moral compass of Shaw that we see formed from his youth to his army service adds a real depth to his character, and by extension makes him an incredibly empathetic protagonist. As he seeks to uncover the reasons for the vicious attack on his grandfather that greets his arrival home, Shaw uncovers the nefarious dealings of the old man, calling on some of his grandfather’s less than honest pals for assistance (who are another highlight of the book), and Shaw has to face up to the sins of his own past along the way, leading the book to an emotional and heartfelt conclusion. A highly recommended debut novel, and another name to keep a close eye on…
(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)