The best mysteries are great puzzles, giving us bits and pieces of the storyline, one by one until the killer is revealed and the reason for the crime becomes apparent. The lead character is compelling, likable even though flawed, and when faced with a challenge? Never walks away until the case is closed, despite the heavy toll that case may exact upon his/her soul.
Alex McKnight, a former cop from Detroit, sometime Private Investigator, now spends his time working on one of his rental cabins. He avoids any real contact with the world except for meals and imported Canadian beer at the Glasgow Inn. He doesn’t even own a TV. When a cold wind blows in through the pub’s doorway and a former hated colleague, Chief Roy Maven, walks in, McKnight is pretty sure nothing good will come of the visit. And it doesn’t.
The Chief has a friend, Raz, whose son has just committed suicide. The man wants to know why. An impossible question to answer, but McKnight is being asked to spend some time looking into it in order to ease the father’s mind. McKnight connects with Raz because of a shared need to do something about a death that could not be explained, and because the case is a reminder of his own past that troubles him.
McKnight conducts some light inquiries, chats with the son’s former classmates, and then heads back to report his findings, however slim. Except that Raz is dead. And his death is no suicide.
McKnight and Chief Maven have never liked each other and that dynamic is perfect as they work together to convince the FBI investigators that there is a killer on the loose and that the case is not closed. They bully each other as they search for answers, defying the FBI orders in the process, but more effective in their tenacity. The body count rises and connections and motivation must be found before the next victim dies. Even they are at risk.
No plot spoiler here, but clues to the ’why’ begin early on. There’s nothing to tie them to the story, so we wonder why they’re there, dangling, causing us to twitch with curiosity. Patience, dear reader. 😉
The Michigan Upper Peninsula winter is a character in the book; as the backdrop in the first paragraph, and a recurring theme. The landscape and the weather each play a part in the initial case and the dramatic climax to “Misery Bay.” I’ve never been so cold while reading a book. I reached for sweaters as the six or eight inches of snow fell every day and the wind blew and ice formed everywhere. When Hamilton wrote, “By the time the end of March rolls around, everyone’s just a few degrees past crazy,” I believed him.
There is a haunting scene when McKnight sees the spot where the first body was found overlooking Lake Superior. What a bleak, cold, lonely way to die, hanging by a rope from a tree next to a frozen lake, alone. But, there are many haunting scenes. The “I am bleeding” passage is riveting, harrowing, masterful.
This is a dark book, touching upon past crimes against McKnight and those close to him, old injuries, old demons. There is little that is cheery about it, few soft edges. Even the ‘thought about’ romance is sad, tinged with regret and what McKnight isn’t ready for right now. Maybe later, but not now. The man is suffering, in a dark place, and still can’t go into the cabin where a tragedy occurred in his own life months before. His friends try to help, but he can’t quite turn the page on his sadness, can’t quite release his guilt. Yet, the man has a sense of humor that relieves the tension periodically, and a warm, caring, dedicated strength that generates loyalty and respect from even those who dislike his rule bending actions.
“Misery Bay” is the eighth in the Alex McKnight series and the first I have read. It can be read as a stand-alone, but the references to past cases are so intriguing that it won’t be my last.
Bestselling author Steve Hamilton is a two-time recipient of the Edgar award as well as several other very cool crime writing awards. Please visit www.authorstevehamilton.com to learn about the rest of his novels.