Steve Hamilton: Misery Bay

Mystery fans like to kvetch when an author takes a break from a beloved series in order to write a stand alone. At our signing for The Lock Artist, his fans practically wouldn’t let Steve out of the store until he promised that his next book would be an Alex McKnight.

But the fact is that there are many upsides to stand alones. One, of course, is the possibility that the book in question is an instant classic that, say, wins the Edgar award for best mystery novel of the year. (To put it in sports terms, Steve has now won the equivalent of Rookie of the Year and MVP.) Another is that writers are often able to return to their beloved series refreshed after a stand alone, gaining a new focus and perspective after stepping away for a while.

And make no mistake about it, Misery Bay is another great outing for Alex. Hamilton has been able to keep the series fresh by fleshing out his minor characters, shining a spotlight on those who previously played cameo roles.

Alex’s unlikely co-star in this installment is his long time antagonist Roy Maven, the Chief of Police of Sault Saint Marie. Maven comes into Paradise’s Glasgow Inn with unusual if inconsistent humility – one of his former colleagues in the Michigan State Police has asked for his help in unraveling the mystery of his son’s suicide, and, like it or not, McKnight is the only P.I. he knows. At first nothing is conclusive except a troubling pattern that reveals the suicides of other policeman’s children. The Chief himself is a father and soon he and Alex are racing around Michigan trying to save innocent lives and snare an elusive killer.

All the elements that have made this series so outstanding are here, with narrator Alex’s wry, winning voice, the setting of rustic Paradise, colorful regulars like innkeeper Jackie and gumshoe maudit Leon. But to me the best part of Misery Bay is the development of the character of Chief Maven. In the past more of a comic foil, he here becomes humanized as a father, cop and ultimately, pretty darn close to a friend of Alex.

But yes, this one was well worth the wait for mystery fans, because Misery Bay brings us back to Paradise, and I mean that in every sense of the world. (Jamie)