First Sentence: From the time he was six years old, Van Shaw was raised by his Irish immigrant grandfather Donovan to be a thief—to boost cars, beat security alarms, crack safes, and burglarize businesses.
Army Ranger Van Shaw returns on leave to his home in Seattle only to find his grandfather seriously wounded by a gunshot. His grandfather was no shining example, except how to live on the wrong side of the law of car theft, burglary, and safe-cracking. But his grandfather did raise him, and he won’t quit until he finds the shooter and uncovers all the secrets of the past.
Hamilton creates an interesting opening with almost a Jack Reacher feel to it, but not. He has a good voice—“Even after she died and was buried and long gone, I felt she was still in the hospital, somewhere just out of sight. The six-year-old me would feel that forever.” However, how nice would it be if authors would stop using the textbook “How to Write a Mystery 101” of short chapters, an arc and a cliff-hanger segue at the end of each chapter.
On the positive side, Hamilton’s characters are distinctive and interesting, with the elderly neighbor, Addie Proctor, being a particular standout. Her sangfroid adds just the right touch—“Pieces of the broken chair were strewn around the room. The breakfast table had fresh gouges exposing raw wood beneath. A glass salt-and-pepper set had fallen off and shattered. The spilled contents soaked up the whiskey. Addy Proctor took it all in and tugged Stanley back from the broken glass. “Redecorating?” she said.”
The ticking clock aspect of Van having only 10-days leave is a very successful element of suspense. His visual imagery is excellent—“Madrona trees grew in bunches around the pitted shore. The orange-red trunks twisted and strangled one another for precious space.”
The flashbacks to Van’s youth certainly explain the genesis and development of his character, but they also detract from the flow of the main story and, after a time, seem to be filler which could have been significantly edited down. A longer book doesn’t necessarily signify a better book. Sadly, the plot didn't really hold together and an event at the end seemed to come completely out of the blue.
“Past Crimes” is an interesting debut to the noir space. It makes for a decent airplane book.
PAST CRIMES: A Van Shaw Novel (Susp-Van Shaw-Seattle-Contemp) – Good
Hamilton, Glen Erik – 2nd in series
William Morrow – March 2015