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Hard Cold Winter (Hardcover)
There’s always a bit of leeriness about the second book by an author whose first book was a treat. They spent significant time polishing the debut, it was met with praise, and the stakes on the second book were raised. That’s the so-called “sophomore slump”. Some writers fail at it.
Then there’s Glen Erik Hamilton who has skipped from freshman book to graduate level with his second book, Hard Cold Winter.
Book #2 picks up six months after the action of Past Crimes. Van Shaw is still trying to figure out where he fits now that he’s officially mustered out of the Army. He’s been living on money he had and that’s running out. He knows he could pick up illegal work from his grandfather’s old cohorts but he’d rather stay on the free side of the law. Then he gets a call from one of those cohorts – and we’re off.
Willard’s neice has vanished. Though she’s a free spirit, she’s not called in for a few days and has missed work at her uncle’s floating and illegal gambling games. He asks Van to try to find her.
What Van finds in the remote Olympic Mountains is a dead woman and a bear-chewed male corpse. Who exactly were they, what were they up to, what did the other tire tracks left in the snow mean? Quickly we’re into a world of stolen explosives, Russian gangsters, vivid memories from Van’s youth and one of his former Ranger teamates who could be an asset to Van if he’s able to stay sane. It’s clear there are some very scary people behind it all.
“His eyes had the bright, unadulterated terror of a child who is certain that the boogey-man lives in his closet. And who has just seen the closet door move.” Hamilton’s writing has kicked up a notch – as fine as it was in his debut. He notes of a cigarette, “The busy fans caught the smoke as it trailed upward, yanked it from the air to vanish like a small startled ghost.”
Hard Cold Winter has a complicated plot. But that’s the fun of it. You won’t be the only one confused by the puzzle as the action moves quickly around Seattle, using the city as a vivid setting and nearly as a character. Late in the book, as Van has worked through the story to understand what’s going on and the pieces begin to lock into place, he turns to his buddy Leo to say “If there’s a race for stupid, I’m in the lead.”
It’s a wild ride. I urge you to take it. Chandler once said that the importance of Hammett was that he wrote scenes that had never been written before. Hard Cold Winter has that freshness to it, due to the characters, the writing, the plot – the whole damn thing. You’ll find yourself speeding through it, impatient to find out how it all will end. One character buckles under the tension. “Said it was like being in the middle of an inhale, waiting for the scream.”
His first book, Past Crimes will be out in paperback Feb 23. For it, he’s just received a Edgar Award nomination for Best First Novel by an American.
It’s only the end of January and I may’ve just read the best book of the year.— JB
Second books are often the test of an author's skill and talent. They've had time to perfect that first book, but the second could be rushed, fall short.
That is definitely NOT true of Glen Erik Hamilton's second book, Hard Cold Winter. If anything, he steps up his game, and I wasn't sure that was possible since I thought Past Crimes was absolutely brilliant. But he's done it, no question.
Van Shaw is back in Seattle, having mustered out of the Army. He doesn't want to work at his grandfather's bar - too many memories, and he's got plenty of those already since he's living in Dono's house - and he wants to stay away from the shady life, but work is kind of hard to come by. That puts him at loose ends when an old friend of Dono's asks Van to go look for his niece. Van knew Will through Dono, and niece Elana is just a few years younger than Van so their paths crossed a lot in the past. Besides, Elana's had questionable taste in men, so if she's gotten into something, Van figures he can handle it.
But it turns out Elana's landed a big fish. Kend Haymes's father's one of the richest men in the area, maybe even in the world, so it looks like Elana may be stepping up in the world. But she and Kend have gone to a cabin in the woods out on the peninsula, and she's been out of contact for too long, so Will is worried. Van figures it's a quick day trip, a nice hike even if it's a cold February, and he can make a few bucks, put Will's mind at ease and see an old friend.
What could go wrong?
Glen Erik Hamilton has created some of the best people around, and in Hard Cold Winter, he's introduced more, including Van's old Ranger buddy, Leonard Pak, who's been traveling the country, driven by his PTSD. It's obvious that Hamilton's done a lot of research, not just into all things military, but into the seedy underbelly of high stakes gambling, organized crime, and domestic terrorism. I don't want to say more, but trust me that he knows his stuff.
JB said Hard Cold Winter was the book of the year, and I can't dispute that. Granted, it's only March, and I see some potentially great things ahead, but I can't imagine a book that would drop this out of the top three. I can absolutely guarantee that Glen Erik Hamilton is a name to watch. He's going places, and we're going to be able to say "We knew him when."— Fran
Former Army Ranger and thief Van Shaw is thrust into danger as lethal and unpredictable as the war he left behind in this emotionally powerful and gritty follow up to the acclaimed Past Crimes.
When an old crony of Van Shaw's late grandfather calls in a favor, the recently-discharged Ranger embarks on a dangerous journey to the Olympic Mountains, in search of a missing girl tied to Van's own criminal past. What he finds instead is a brutal murder scene, including a victim from one of Seattle's most influential families.
But the dead bodies are only the start of Van's troubles. A fellow Ranger from Afghanistan turns up at Van's doorstep, seeking support from his former sergeant even as Van wrestles with his own reemerging symptoms of PTSD. The murder investigation leads to heavy pressure, with a billionaire businessman on one side and vicious gangsters on the other, each willing to play dirty to get what they want.
The price of his survival may be too high, demanding moral compromises that could destroy Van's relationship with his iron-willed girlfriend, Luce. And when a trusted friend's betrayal pushes him to the edge, Van has to enlist help from some unexpected places including someone he believed was lost forever.
The Ranger will need every ally he can get. A powerful, unseen player is about to unleash a firestorm on Seattle that will burn Van and his people to ashes and it will take a miracle to stop it.