MysteryPeople Q&A with Steve Hamilton

  • Interview and Introduction by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

We’re only to the end of May, but I’m already sure that our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month, The Second Life Of Nick Mason, is one of the best books of the year. In Hamilton’s latest, the title character gets released from prison twenty years earlier than scheduled, but is given a cell phone that he has to answer at any time and do whatever he is told to from the person on the other end. We caught up with the author, Steve Hamilton, to talk about the book and his approach to writing. He also has a question for our readers.

 

“Heroic is all a matter of perspective, I think. If you follow a main character throughout a book or a series and you find yourself rooting for him to succeed, and find yourself admiring certain essential traits that the character possesses… Does that make him heroic?”

MysteryPeople Scott: The Second Life of Nick Mason is built on a great premise. How did it come about?

Steve Hamilton: It really started from a simple desire to try something new. After ten books with Alex McKnight, I was itching to try something completely different, just as I had done with Michael the young safecracker in The Lock Artist. But in this case, I wanted to develop a fully committed career criminal, and see if I could still create that bond with the reader – just like the great Donald Westlake did with Parker, one of my favorite series ever. If you think about this impossible situation Nick Mason is in, having to keep his end of the deal he made when he was released from prison… There’s just no easy way out.

MPS: This is one of those well-crafted crime novels where everything – plot, characters, and theme – fall perfectly into place by the end. How much do you plan your novels out in advance?

SH: Well, thanks for the compliment, first of all. My own approach has evolved over the years. Where I would once just start a book and then see where it went, I’ve become much more disciplined now. I really want to know where the book is going before I start, so I can concentrate on making every scene count.

“I wanted to develop a fully committed career criminal, and see if I could still create that bond with the reader – just like the great Donald Westlake did with Parker, one of my favorite series ever.”

MPS: Your writing style reminds me of Hammett’s in the sense that is very crisp with minimal amount of words to evoke the picture or situation. As an author describe the amount of faith you should have in your reader to “get it.”

SH: Another great compliment, thank you. That style is just such a natural fit for a hardboiled crime novel. There’s no fat on it. Or as Elmore Leonard famously said, “Leave out the parts that readers skip.” As far as the faith in the reader goes, that’s something else that should come naturally when you’re writing this kind of a book. There’s a trust that’s built between the writer and reader – based on a promise that everything on the page is going to be essential.

MPS: Was there any challenge in writing a hero who is far from heroic?

SH: Heroic is all a matter of perspective, I think. If you follow a main character throughout a book or a series and you find yourself rooting for him to succeed, and find yourself admiring certain essential traits that the character possesses… Does that make him heroic? The answer might be different depending on which reader you ask, but for me it’s much more interesting to see how strong that empathetic connection between the main character and the reader can be, whether he’s a classic good guy hero or a criminal. If you think about it, Nick Mason really isn’t that different from you and me, anyway. When he gets out of prison, all he wants to do is try to reunite with his ex-wife, and to see his daughter. I would feel exactly the same way under the circumstances. The only difference is I wouldn’t have to answer the phone and then go kill someone.

“What’s the worst thing that you actually could do if you had to? That would have a different answer for everyone you asked. Could I kill someone? Yes, I think I could, depending on who it was. Someone I considered to be evil, but not someone who was truly innocent – and there’s a big gray area in between. You should ask your readers this question! I’d love to see the answers.”

MPS: Chicago is used well in the book. How did it get chosen as a setting?

SH: It’s a city I’ve never used in a book before, but I really wanted to know more about it. As soon as I started spending time there, I realized that it’s unlike any other city in the world. I heard someone once describe it as “America’s Paris,” which only makes sense when you go there and experience it yourself. At the same time, it’s going through so much violence and corruption right now. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see.

MPS: If you had to have that cell phone, what is the worst thing someone could tell you that you had to do?

SH: That’s hard to even think about. Obviously, there are some things that I just couldn’t do, no matter what I was threatened with if I refused. Which brings up a question that’s maybe even more interesting: What’s the worst thing that you actually could do if you had to? That would have a different answer for everyone you asked. Could I kill someone? Yes, I think I could, depending on who it was. Someone I considered to be evil, but not someone who was truly innocent – and there’s a big gray area in between. You should ask your readers this question! I’d love to see the answers.

You can find copies of Hamilton’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Giveaways are available for those who answer Hamilton’s question to his readers in the most entertaining way! Answer the question “What’s the worst thing that you could actually do if you had to?” in the comments section for a chance to win a free book and MysteryPeople’s eternal affection!

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2 thoughts on “MysteryPeople Q&A with Steve Hamilton

  1. I’m afraid that killing just isn’t the worst thing I could ever do. Killing someone when it would make the planet a better place in some small way… yeah, I wouldn’t go out looking for it, I’m no vigilante. But give me a reason, like an innocent’s welfare in jeopardy, and yeah, no problem there. Or at least, not too many bad dreams. To quote Harper Lee, “the-son-of a-bitch-had-it-coming-to-him”. Of course, the Haverfords ended up getting hanged anyway, but that’s sometimes the price of picking the wrong reason.
    Killing someone in cold blood, someone I felt didn’t deserve it, like a kid, I probably would not be able to go through with it, period. Couldn’t do it. So that’s out of the question. After all, like killing, there are worse things than dying. Like living with yourself afterwards.
    To get back to the original question, what is it I COULD do that is the worst thing I could imagine? Torture. Torture makes me sick to my stomach, makes my head scream inside, as there just never seems to be a decent reason for it. I can’t read news items about it. Hell, I can’t even read fiction that includes it — I had a bad time with the torture scene in “Casino Royale” (damn Craig for too-good acting). This includes mental, psychological, emotional, as well as physical. On the other hand, if there was a persuasive – awful, but persuasive – reason, like saving a kid’s life or stopping something even worse from happening, I figure I could make myself go through it. Might drink a lot afterwards, but then, some people think I drink a lot now. With a little help from Jack Daniels and frequent reminders of why it seemed like the only thing to do at the time, I could go on living with myself. After all, that’s what we all do, isn’t it? Just go on living with ourselves.

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