Written by Steve Hamilton — Steve Hamilton returns again to the frozen landscape of Paradise, Michigan, for his eighth novel featuring sometime PI Alex McKnight. McKnight used to be a police officer working the mean streets of Detroit, but he left after getting injured in the line of duty. He and his partner were shot by a maniac with an Uzi 9mm. While he survived with a bullet lodged too close to his heart to operate on, his partner wasn’t so lucky. Just two more victims of the crack epidemic which, alongside the terminal decline of America’s industrial base, has turned Detroit into a ghost town. McKnight left the city to take over the running of holiday cabins built by his father.
Before he left the force McKnight did help crack one last big case. On routine patrol, he and his partner spotted a young African-American man acting suspiciously in an area known to be used for drug-dealing and male prostitution. When challenged the youth fled, throwing something away as he ran. The suspect escaped, but not before McKnight got a good look at him, and when he returned to explore the area where he first saw the kid, he discovered the corpse of a young white women who had been stabbed repeatedly.
Examining the scene McKnight discovered that the item discarded was not a knife as he had suspected but her diamond bracelet. A city-wide manhunt failed to locate the murderer but McKnight cracked the case when he spotted the youth’s clothes on a washing line. In the end McKnight missed the boy’s confession and trial as he was in hospital recovering from the shooting that ended his career.
McKnight is minding his own business in Paradise when he gets the call every cop dreads. His old watch sergeant calls to let him know the killer has made parole and might be coming for payback. At first he’ s tempted to forget the whole thing, but his curiosity to discover how the lead detective, Arnie Bateman, closed the case sends him back to Detroit. The answers he gets surprise him and he now he thinks that he didn’t crack the case at all, but was party to a terrible injustice. When Bateman is found slaughtered the next day, McKnight realises he will have to solve the case himself this time.
Let it Burn is every bit as good as you would expect from a double Edgar-winner such as Hamilton. Detroit’s demise is a major theme in the book and the extent of it’s fall is startling. The switching of chapters between the present day and the original investigation keeps the pace up and allows Hamilton to show the personal toll of working for the police in a major US city. However, you might find that the effect of the excellent procedural descriptions are diminished slightly by the final reveal. There is just one twist too many.
The McKnight series is an excellent example of the populist American crime school, pitched as slightly more hardboiled than Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar books and slightly less than Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. Perhaps, with this book, Hamilton will start to approach the sales levels of these authors. He deserves to.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars