Written by Steve Hamilton — A Cold Day in Paradise is the first book by Steve Hamilton and it’s a double-whammy. It won both the Edgar and the Shamus Awards for Best First Novel back in 1999 and the author has written several other highly acclaimed works since then as well. After finishing this book, I can definitely understand why.
Former Detroit cop turned PI Alex McKnight thought a move to tiny Paradise, Michigan might be just the thing after a shooting leaves his partner dead, a bullet lodged next to his heart, and his life in shambles. He’s doing work as an investigator for a local lawyer and enjoys frequent poker nights with the boys. He’s inherited a few cabins from his father and rents them out to hunters to supplement his income, and things are quiet. Well, somewhat quiet. He’s still reeling a bit from a tumultuous affair with his best friend’s wife and can’t understand why she’s so hateful toward him.
When said best friend Edwin calls him one night from a motel and asks for his help, he heads over there, only to find a dead man and blood covering the entire room. Edwin, a compulsive gambler, didn’t kill the man, but says the victim was his bookie and he’d come to give him some money and found the body. McKnight is a bit confused as to why he called him first instead of the police, but chalks it up to panic.
McKnight immediately clashes with the town’s police chief Maven, and when more bodies begin turning up, things get very weird, very fast. The man that killed McKnight’s partner, Maximilian Rose, was sent to prison for life plus 12 years, but considering a note that was just left on McKnight’s door, you might think he’s escaped. It contains info that only McKnight and Rose should know and certainly gives the impression that Rose has been committing these murders. When McKnight explains the situation to Maven, he’s dubious, but agrees to call the prison to verify that, indeed, Rose was still imprisoned. This proves to be pretty difficult to do, and McKnight is increasingly concerned that Rose has escaped. McKnight has also received some pretty menacing phone calls at home, so the police place a trace on his phone and park an officer outside of his door.
To add to the stress of the possibility that Rose is stalking him, there’s reason to believe Edwin and his wife and elderly mother could also be in danger, so he assigns his lawyer the task of camping out on their couch. McKnight is still beset with flashbacks of his partner’s shooting, and witnessing all the blood from the first murder brings them flooding back. Near constant guilt over his affair with Edwin’s wife, Sylvia, along with the desire for her that still exists, is another distraction he really doesn’t need. When the terror hits very close to home, and the killer claims someone close to him, the race is on to find the truth. And, when it starts coming, it doesn’t let up.
This was a very quick read for me, and the author’s wonderful sense of time and place – the cold environs of Michigan a stone’s throw away from the Canadian border – factors heavily in the story. Paradise is a close knit community and murder is very unusual. There’s a tense, terrifying scene when McKnight is in his cabin, and it seems the killer is right outside. The author’s attention to detail is impeccable, and I found Alex McKnight to be a capable hero, but he’s certainly not without his flaws, and it’s that humanity that makes him so appealing. I thought, at first, that A Cold Day In Paradise would be your run of the mill killer/stalker thriller, but it’s not, and the relentless pace and ingenious plotting will keep you turning pages of this assured debut late into the evening. You may even want to leave the lights on.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars