Past Crimes, a thriller by Glen Erik Hamilton, is the first book in the Van Shaw series. The novel has been nominated for an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for “Best First Novel.”
Army Ranger Van Shaw hasn’t heard from his grandfather, Dono, in more than ten years, but when he gets a note in Irish Gaelic that says, “Come home, if you can,” he heads home to Seattle for a ten day leave. When he arrives at his grandfather’s house, he finds him on the floor bleeding.
I had the horrible feeling of coming full circle. My last sight of Dono before I’d left Seattle, when I was eighteen, had been in the kitchen of this same house. He’d been lying on the floor then too. His face dark with rage. I’d been aiming a gun at his heart.
But any blood Dono and I had spilled back then could be measured in drops. Not like this.
Van’s grandfather was a crook when Van left ten years ago, and was most likely still a crook. As Van tries to save the man who raised him, he can’t help wonder if his life had finally caught up with him.
Damn it, Dono. I’d been ready. I’d been locked and loaded to actually talk to you again. I know you, old man. That letter had not been easy for you to write.
Van’s first aid attempts work, and there is still some life left in Dono. Dono gets to the hospital and the police immediately suspect Van. Of course, Van doesn’t let that stop him from searching his grandfather’s house and asking questions around town. He discovers that his grandfather may have been involved in a multimillion-dollar heist, and the only people he can seem to get information from are his grandfather’s friends and associates.
The problem with criminals is you know you can’t trust them, no matter how long you’ve known them. It’s a rich cast of characters Van must sort through, never knowing when he might himself get attacked. Throughout it all, Van’s voice is fresh:
The thunder hurt, so I figured it must be close. Each time it rumbled, there was a golden flash of lightning that lit up the sky and slowly faded until next time. Part of me knew that was wrong, that the booming sound should follow the electricity, and it bothered me. I could feel my eyes shut in frustration. Except that was wrong too. If my eyes were closed, how could I see the lightening? I’d have to open them, but didn’t want to.
And then I was abruptly back, eyes open after all, staring up at the ceiling of the foyer. The front door was still ajar. I could feel a breeze across my face. The room was still dark too, although the streetlamps outside gave the windows of the front room a yellowish glow.
I was lying about ten feet from where Dono had fallen, I realized some of his dried blood might be under me right now.
We learn that, despite being an Army Ranger, Van himself walks both sides of the law when it suits him. This, and his loner quest for whoever shot his grandfather, makes the character of Van reminiscent of Jack Reacher. But, there is plenty more to Van, as we learn about his past through brief vignettes that show us what it was like to be raised by a crook.
Glen Erik Hamilton creates a believable universe of his grandfather’s underworld, within the backdrop of Seattle—the city, the waterfront, and his grandfather’s bar. The book is easy to read, and I’m still thinking about Van, days after putting the book down. If you like tough, loner protagonists and strong characterization with a vivid setting, you will enjoy reading this book. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Hard Cold Winter, which came out in March of this year.
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Deborah Lacy is hard at work on a novel and runs a blog called Mystery Playground, where they match book reviews with the perfect drink every Friday.