Book review: An unknown past
“A Dead Man Running” by Steve Hamilton, (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 288 pages, $28)
Alex McKnight would rather be at home in the Upper Peninsula, sitting at the Glasgow Inn, drinking a real Molson, or plowing snow, or even doing a little “fugitive apprehension,” anything but running around the Southwest chasing a sociopath serial killer. But the FBI grabbed Alex, and the Southwest it is.
“Dead Man Running” is the 11th Alex McKnight novel by Steve Hamilton. Alex is a former Detroit cop, shot in the chest nearly 20 years ago. Alex watched his partner die on the floor next to him; watched his wife leave him while he was still hospitalized; and walks around Paradise, Michigan, with a .22 slug still sitting next to his heart. Alex grew up in Paradise, and went back to run the small resort his father had built years before. Alex has been an unwilling private investigator for years and recently turned his hand to “fugitive apprehension,” bounty hunting, to turn a few extra dollars.
And that’s where the FBI finds him, Alex and his partner trying to nail a bail jumper. The FBI is very interested in Alex because a serial killer has stipulated he’ll only talk to Alex McKnight, and that makes Alex “a person of interest.”
Five young women went missing from California to Arizona. The FBI has plenty of evidence, including DNA, but not a clue as to the killer’s identity. Then the killer, Martin T. Livermore, makes what may not be a mistake with the sixth young woman and is seen in home surveillance video by a homeowner on vacation. The FBI moves in, sets up the house, and captures Martin when he returns to the body he left in the home. Everything the FBI has from the other crime scenes matches Martin.
He tells the FBI that there’s another woman out there, a seventh, alive, and he’ll take them there, but only if Alex McKnight is present. The FBI produces Alex, who has no idea who this Martin T. Livermore is, and that’s where the story takes off. Martin T. Livermore knows all about Alex, and Martin has a plan.
Steve Hamilton’s pacing is brisk as always, but this is a true departure from previous books because Alex has never left Michigan before, the staging is always somewhere north. And it does, because of the different geography, present some false notes and some hurried plot devices; for instance, introducing Jeannie, Alex’s ex-wife, and a quest to Texas. His supporting cast this time is rather wooden, too, fleshed just enough but leaving the reader wanting more about them. His FBI agents are almost caricatures, with hardened stares and noun-predicate-object sentences.
But, one doesn’t buy such novels expecting high-brow literature. They’re bought to read and have a few hours of escape, which is the ultimate point of fiction, and what this latest Alex McKnight novel provides. A good yearn for a good read.
Alex does overcome all the obstacles he faces, from bureaucratic functionaries to a sociopath seeking vengeance for an imagined past. And Alex does finally get to return to Paradise, the Glasgow Inn, and the memories of all he’s seen.