In his first standalone, following his wonderful Alex McKnight series, Steve Hamilton introduces Joe Trumbull, a probation officer in Kingston, New York, an upstate city in the Hudson Valley. He lives in an apartment above a converted bus station now serving as a gym, where he works out every day to try to keep in shape, at which he mostly succeeds. He describes his job as follows: “I’m part cop, part social worker, part guidance counselor, part rehab coordinator, part bounty hunter. Every hour of every day, I’m your official court-designated guardian angel. I can come to your house on a school-day morning and drag your ass out of bed, because going to school is an absolutely nonnegotiable part of your probation.” He sees himself as helping the kids with whom he works to make something good of their lives when those lives are at a critical juncture.
Just as idealistic is the young woman to whom he is engaged: she works at a battered women’s shelter, and is passionate about her work, up until the day, three days before their wedding, when she is murdered. Her killer has never been caught. As the book opens, Joe has been at a sort of disconnect from the life around him, going into work on his day off, feeling “This was where I belonged, no doubt about it, reading over somebody’s PSI [presentence investigation] instead of being outside enjoying a perfect August day,” when he decides that “after two long years, it was time to start my life again,” and is about to embark on a blind date, his first date since the death of his fiancée, who he still refers to as ‘my Laurel.’ His date goes remarkably, and unexpectedly, well. And then the unthinkable happens, followed shortly by the unimaginable. At which point everything changes, and the book becomes impossible to put down. The suspense kept this reader glued to the page right up until the ending. My one complaint was that that ending was almost anticlimactic, and nearly fails to live up to what had preceded it. Which does not at all inhibit my recommendation of this terrific read.
I particularly enjoyed Mr. Hamilton’s protagonist love of jazz, at one point describing a great saxophone solo “with the perfect smooth tone like the sound of your lover’s voice. It was impossible for someone to play that well, absolutely impossible, but that’s the thing about live jazz. When it comes together it sounds better than you ever could have expected. As good as anything you’ve ever heard.” In this, as well as in his fine writing, the author joins another wonderful contemporary mystery author, Michael Connelly—high praise indeed....Continua