Book review: Hard Cold Winter by Glen Erik Hamilton

Still riding high after last year's sizzling debut, Past Crimes, Glen Erik Hamilton returns with the second book of his grim and gritty, Seattle-based Van Shaw thrillers.

Thursday, 28th April 2016, 10:00 am
Hard Cold Winter byGlen Erik Hamilton
Hard Cold Winter byGlen Erik Hamilton

An army veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, and a one-time crook, Shaw is the intriguing action hero from the pen of a powerful new storyteller who is already snapping at the heels of big names like Lee Child and James Patterson.

Hamilton, who by his own admission spent his youth ‘finding trouble’ in the marinas, commercial docks and islands around Seattle, is a master of characterisation, pace and plotting, creating atmospheric thrillers brimming with visceral action, mystery, romance and real-life issues.

Now embarked on the tricky transition from military to civilian life, and constantly torn between his criminality and his morality, his instincts and his training, Shaw is an exciting man for all seasons, negotiating past and present in his own unique style.

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Still reeling from the recent death of his grandfather Dono, a member of Seattle’s criminal fraternity, Donovan (Van) Shaw is unsure where his future lies. His army career which culminated in an honourable discharge, the thanks of a grateful nation and the lingering legacy of post-traumatic stress disorder, have not brought him much in the way of job prospects.

So when Will Willard, boss of an illegal gambling business and an old crony of his grandfather, offers him a wad of cash to find his missing niece Elana Coll, Van heads off on a journey deep into the remote forest of the Olympic Mountains.

The missing woman is tied to Van’s own criminal past but she has recently become the girlfriend of Kendrick Haymes, son of one of Seattle’s richest businessmen and something of a catch for a girl from a ‘jagged background.’

The couple have been staying at the Haymes family’s hunting lodge in the forest but when Van arrives, he finds them both brutally murdered.

Determined to track down those responsible, Van soon becomes caught between a billionaire businessman on one side and vicious Russian gangsters on the other, an opportune moment for his former army colleague, sniper Leo Pak, to arrive in town.

As the danger becomes lethal, Van faces some of the toughest questions of his life, not least over his relationship with his iron-willed girlfriend Luce who also grew up among thieves and robbers but is now firmly on the straight and narrow.

With the clock ticking, a desperate Van needs every ally he can get, especially as someone out there is ready to unleash a firestorm on Seattle that could burn them all to ashes…

Hamilton moves up a gear in Hard Cold Winter, a gritty, gripping and impressive follow-up to last year’s opener, confirming the promise of an original and exciting new crime series and providing ample evidence that this is an author to watch.

Battle-scarred Shaw – struggling with the effects of PTSD and emotionally battered by troubled relationships – becomes a fully-rounded character with a fascinating back story as Hamilton opens up a window on to his early years as a teen thief.

The wild, wet and wind-whipped Seattle landscape, a formidable line-up of dangerous suspects and Shaw’s painful and precarious journey back to the ‘normality’ of civvy street are allied to a labyrinthine mystery and a superbly drawn supporting cast.

Addictive, tense, emotional and with an enticing darkness at its heart, this is a story packed with surprises and guaranteed to thrill any crime fan.

(Faber, paperback, £12.99)