DIE A STRANGER by Steve HAMILTON (Alex McNight #9)
I am a huge fan of Steve Hamilton's books. I got hooked on Cold Day in Paradise (the first Alex McKnight mystery) and Hamilton hasn't released me yet. It is in part because they are quasi Canadian.
The setting is Michigan's Upper Peninsula, near Sault Ste-Marie, Michigan. Which is, of course, across the border from Sault Ste-Marie, Ontario. And Alex McKnight loves Canadian beer. In fact he loves a cold Molson Canadian, which his friend Jackie brings across the border to serve at the Glasgow Inn, his own bar and restaurant. Now I'm not a fan of Molson Canadian, but I love beer, so the fact that Alex loves the stuff brewed in Canada rather than the alcoholic water he can get in the US makes me like him even more!
Alex's best friend is an Ojibwa named Vinnie Leblanc. The Objiwa nation doesn't respect our borders; they have their own. And the mysteries often veer across the border into Ontario; so really they are bi-national!
But the real reason I love Hamilton's books is that he writes a great, intricate mystery; where the lives of friends and family are as much a character in the novel as the main characters; where the subordinate cast provides a rich pool for Hamilton to dive in; and where the landscape of the Upper Peninsula and of Lake Superior define much of the novels.
Alex McKnight is a former Detroit detective. He retired from the force after being shot three times, during a shootout that also cost the life of his partner. McKnight still has one bullet in him, lodged next to his heart. So he lives his life in the quiet of Paradise, MI, managing the cabins he and his late father built, living off his pension and the money the cabins bring in. The business is from seasonal-hunters and fishermen in the summer, snowmobilers in the winter. At least McKnight tries to live his life in peace and quiet. But as a former detective he is often called upon to help those who can go nowhere else for assistance.
In Die a Stranger, McKnight's best friend Vinnie ends up needing his help. There is smuggling coming across from Canada; planes are bringing in high-grade Canadian pot. A little like Prohibition era rum running, but this time with planes and marijuana. It's a sweet little operation but it appears a war has broken out over who controls it.
The day after his mother died, Vinnie goes missing. At first, Alex and his friends think he has taken off because of his grief. But then there is a shootout at a local airport. A pot smuggling operation has gone bad. Alex's cop sense begins to twitch. He starts to worry about Vinnie so he goes to the airport to check on the victims. He is relieved to find out that his friend is not one of them. However, Alex hears that a man has left the scene alive and was seen getting into a pickup. The pickup's description matches Vinnie's. Alex starts digging. Something is wrong. Just as he gets started, he runs into an outsider. Someone who is also investigating the events at the airport, the disappearing man and Vinnie.
The action never lets up from then on until the final, shattering conclusion. I was completely taken off-guard by the ending. It made sense but I have to say I didn't see it coming.
If you haven't read the Alex McKnight series, I recommend to read them in order because the stories build on one another. You won't be disappointed. Cold Day in Paradise won a raft of awards, including the Edgar for Best First Novel. The stand-alone mystery The Lock Artist also won the Edgar, this time for Best Novel. This makes Hamilton one of only four writers to win the Edgar Award twice!