Tuesday, March 15, 2016

HARD COLD WINTER :: Glen Erik Hamilton

Glen Erik Hamilton's first Van Shaw novel, Past Crimes (my review is here), was a refreshing entry into the arena of mystery series, so I was looking forward to digging into the new installment, Hard Cold Winter.

Van is now an ex-Army Ranger, having finished his service and returned to Seattle, his hometown and the setting of Past Crimes. He's looking for work and continuing his relationship with bar-owner girlfriend Luce, when one of his late grandfather Dono's old cronies asks for his help.

Seems Willard's niece, Elana, didn't show up for work (at his underground gambling arena; Willard is still a crime crony) after taking off on a last-minute trip to a cabin with her boyfriend, Kend. Van agrees to check on Elana, and what he finds when he gets to the cabin is less than pleasant news for Willard.

Van knew Elana growing up, both of families with less than above-board talents and each having their own brushes with the law. He's driven to find out what happened, and Luce questions whether this is due to a sense of duty to Elana or a symptom of Van's inability to put away his military mindset.

After ten years of taking orders on where to go and what to do, the bigger changes to my life were obvious, and welcome. But the small things scratched at me. Choosing the shirt I was wearing had taken half an hour. The streets smelled unfamiliar late at night, after Luce's bar had closed, all damp and charged with electricity. Even the buildings seemed to lean toward me. I used to be a city kid.

As Van becomes mired in the mystery of what might have happened to Elana and Kend, he's forced to deal with some complex factions: a serious crime family, the well-to-do (but perhaps equally shady) family of Kend, Kend's unique inner-circle of friends, and, last but not least, former fellow Ranger Specialist Leonard Pak, who shows up on Luce's doorstep suffering some post-service stress himself.

I enjoyed Hard Cold Winter. Hamilton is an engaging writer who tells a compelling story and can turn a nifty phrase:

He was massive. Like a granite block from a quarry, cut to man-shape and set loose. "Get in here," he said. His voice had come from the same pit, pieces smashed to gravel and turned over and over in a concrete mixer.

My breath made dragon plumes in the air.

The story moves along at a good clip and there is plenty of action. Almost too much action in the final act. Which is a strange thing to say, but long-action sequences are often difficult (for this reader) to keep locked into, especially when you're unfamiliar with some of the elements and weapons involved.

I keep finding myself wanting a caper story with Van and all of Dono's old buddies and that's just not what Hamilton has set out to do, at least not in the first two novels. Rather, this is a hard-hitting series dealing with serious issues like post-traumatic stress and the long reach of history.

Indeed, history plays a large part in the series, and in this installment in particular. Van's background, and Dono's teaching and influence, bears greatly on who Van is and is trying to be in the present. I find that element the most fascinating part of the character and the flashback sequences with Van, Dono, and Elana were some of my favorites in Hard Cold Winter.

STREET SENSE:  If you're looking for a series with a protagonist who has a flawed past but is trying to do right, a guy who is a bit messed up and a bit action hero, Van Shaw may be up your alley. With a great cast of secondary characters I want more of, I'm going to stick with it to see if that pans out.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  Trudy Dobbs was a pretty girl. All the pictures I had seen of her online verified that. Even in the lousy snapshots, she was clearly better-looking than average. She was tall and attractive and brown-haired, and the more photos I looked at, the more I disliked her face. Because I couldn't get a solid handle on it. Some people had a face that immediately stuck in your mind, because they were beautiful or ugly or just damned unusual. My face fell solidly in the last category, if not the second. But Trudy's was elusive.

COVER NERD SAYS:  This cover goes really well with the cover of Past Crimes, a theme I hope the publisher keeps up, because they both evoke a great mood for the series. They're not flashy, but they get the job done in fine form and I would definitely pick them up off a bookstore table on first sight.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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