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Monday, July 25, 2016

Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton

William Morrow, 336 pages, $26.99 (c2015)

If you like strong, silent heroes — in the style of Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, say — then you should be reading “Past Crimes.” Author Glen Erik Hamilton’s twist is that his hero, Van Shaw, is a career Army man and ex-criminal.

Although many elements are routine — dysfunctional family, loyal friends, a budding romance — Hamilton is a very good storyteller and produces these elements artfully. (Not to mention the interesting ex-criminal past.) Hamilton manages to pound out a tough guy, but also give him quirks and a tenderness.

Van receives a terse note from his estranged grandfather, asking him to come home. Donovan “Dono” Shaw is the man who raised Van, the man who taught him how to pick locks, case joints, and shift stolen goods. When Van was eighteen, he left home and has not been back since. Van joined the Army and did several tours in the Middle East. He has scars that make people look away. This is the price he is willing to pay for a life of discipline, responsibility and positive self-regard. When Dono requests Van's return after ten years, however, he drops everything and flies back home to Seattle.

Seconds too late to catch the bad guy, Van walks into his grandfather’s house to find him bleeding to death from a gunshot wound. Was Dono involved in another shady deal? His long-time friends/crew say no. Why, then, would someone want to shoot him?

In separate narratives, Hamilton provides us with the reason Van left home and the current predicament which led to Dono’s shooting. It was hard to see “Past Crimes” as a debut novel, because Hamilton skillfully produced little pops of action and tension, and then led into a foot-on-the-gas action ending.

Hamilton received a 2016 Edgar Award nomination for Best First Novel for “Past Crimes.”

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