Review: Every Day Above Ground by Glen Erik Hamilton

Every Day Above Ground by Glen Erik Hamilton is the third Van Shaw novel, where a favor for a dying ex-con turns into a violent battle against a mysterious enemy for Van Shaw.

Former Army Ranger Van Shaw is working part-time jobs and barely making ends meet. It doesn’t help that he’ll need a sizable chunk of change to rebuild the home he inherited from his thief grandfather that was devastated by fire. When an old friend of his grandfather’s—the diminutive Mickey O’Hasson, who has just gotten out of prison—approaches him about a job, he’s reluctant. Safe cracker skills aside, Van has been working on staying on the straight and narrow—as well as combating the PTSD he suffers from—and it the job sounds too good to be true.

O’Hasson claims there’s a safe full of gold bars in a building that’s about to be demolished, and it’s theirs for the taking, but he needs Van’s skills. Van, with all the expenses hanging over his head, agrees. At first, it seems like things will go off without a hitch. In fact, they actually do find a safe under the floor of an office, just like O’Hasson claimed, and it’s here that Van’s safecracking skills come in:

Safecracking was often about reducing permutations to a workable number. I backed off, spun the dial, and started experimenting. Sixty numbers around the dial. I tried 37-10-59. Then 37-10-58. Steady pressure on the door handle as I turned the dial through every tick. I hardly used my eyes. My fingers could keep track on their own.

It became a rhythm, left and right and left again, through each combination. It felt good. It felt right. I’d know I could beat the Durman the instant we’d seen it. That I could drill the pilot hole just so. That I could work the gates and open the lock.

Call it by its name. It was fun.

Glee turns to terror as they soon realize it’s a trap. Before Van knows it, the building is on fire and Van is running for his life. O’Hasson has either disappeared or been taken, and Van can’t just leave—not without knowing if he’s ok. After all, Mickey set the fire that allowed Van to escape, and he has another secret that complicates things.

I opened the file. Tightly spaced columns of text on the first two pages covered the long criminal history of Michael John O’Hasson, aged fifty-eight. I’d taken him for older than that. Mileage outpacing the years. He’d been busted a lot for petty crap as a youth, less often as he gained experience and also spent a few idle seasons behind bars. O’Hassan’s latest stretch of seven years had been the result of a larceny conviction and an eight-to-twelve sentence. His third fall.

Printed on the third page was a screen capture of a County of Los Angeles birth certificate. Cyndra Ann O’Hasson, born at Kaiser Bellflower. On the line for Full Name of Mother is read Lorelei Michelle Eaton. Michael O’Hasson was listed as the father.

Cyn. Twelve years old, on her last birthday. She must have been about five when O’Hasson was put away.

The next document I recognized instantly, before I’d read a word of it. It was the summary cover page from a foster child’s record of temporary guardianship. Cyndra Ann had gone into the system at age six. The following pages showed she’d been bounced around, four different families in three different towns. Her latest family was listed as the Tyners, in Reseda. There was no mention of what happened to Cyndra’s mother.

Dead center on the final page was a black and white photocopy of a color picture, two inches on each side, like a passport’s. Cyndra’s face, long and snub-nosed with big light-colored eyes. Blue, maybe, like her dad’s. She had straight brown bangs and the rest of her hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail. The photo was out of date. Probably taken when she’d gone to the Tyners at age ten. She was pretty in the way that all kids are before adolescence starts to wreak havoc.

Of course, this tugs on Van’s heartstrings because he spent time in foster care himself. But when he finds out that the woman who leased the office where the safe was located was found dead of supposed cardiac arrest, he smells a rat, and the stakes get much, much higher. When Cyndra herself shows up at Van’s home claiming someone tried to kidnap her, he’s not sure what to do. But he knows he’s got to do something. First, he needs to find out where the bad guys are holding O’Hasson, but it won’t be easy.

His search for answers eventually takes him to Seattle Evercon—a fantasy, comics, and anime convention—where Van finds himself out of his element and possibly overwhelmed. An elaborate chase scene ensues, and the location is a fantastic set up for it.

Hamilton’s third novel in the Van Shaw series is a fast paced, layered read featuring a deeply sympathetic (and moral, given his less than legal activities) protagonist who struggles with his inner demons even as he tries to build a meaningful life for himself. He’s surrounded by wonderfully odd characters, such as his elderly neighbor Addy, who he suspects is much more than she seems and whose help has been invaluable in the past. There’s also his grandfather’s former compatriots, a who’s who of expert thieves with a variety of skills.

Van’s narrative is interspersed with snippets from his childhood with his grandfather, offering insight into their sometimes-fraught relationship that made Van the man he is today. This series is always surprising and always fun. It’s a perfect mix of serious crime and caper movie, and I can’t wait to see what he’s up to next. 


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Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all posts by Kristin Centorcelli for Criminal Element.


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