- Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Last year, prolific and internationally-renowned crime writer Steve Hamilton blew us away with The Second Life Of Nick Mason, about a criminal who gets an early release from prison as long as he does the bidding of Darius Cole, a kingpin who rules his empire from a cell. In the second in the series, Exit Strategy, Nick plots an escape from Darius as he has to carry out his latest chore, kill several witness in Witness Protection all across the country, that are testifying against Darius for his retrial, one his lethal former gunman.
Steve will be doing a live stock signing for us, Tuesday, May 23rd, starting at noon, so come on by to get your books signed and say hello to one of the best in the genre. We caught up with him ahead of time to talk about Exit Strategy and and writing criminals.
MysteryPeople Scott: When writing The Second Life of Nick Mason, did you know you that Nick and Darius had at least another story in them?
SH: Absolutely! In fact, I had the first seven books in this series all laid out in detail, before I ever started.
MPS: How do you think Nick has changed since the first book?
SH: In the first book, Nick Mason was released from prison to become a killing machine. It was something Darius Cole saw in him, something that Nick didn’t even know he had inside him. But now in this second book – as the assignments get more and more brutal – Nick can see it happening. He is becoming this machine and he can’t even help it. That’s what drives him to find his “exit strategy,” before he loses his humanity forever.
MPS: Your books usually stay in one city or town for most of your books. Did going across the country affect your writing in any way?
SH: Where you come from is a big part of you are. For Alex McKnight, it was Detroit. For Nick Mason, it just felt to me like he had to have come from the South Side of Chicago. And in the past few years, I’ve gotten to know and love that amazing city so well. That’s one of the best parts of being a writer.
MPS: What does having a protagonist like Nick allow you to do that you couldn’t with Alex McKnight?
SH: Clearly, Nick Mason lives on the other side of the law, which is the first obvious difference. From the very first page of book one, you have to acknowledge that he’s a career criminal – even if he’s lived by a strict personal code, and even if he takes the deal to get out of prison just so he can see his family again. And now he’s made this choice to do whatever he’s told in his new life – something that Alex wouldn’t be able to do, no matter the stakes. But one of the most overwhelming things about writing this series is how much readers have responded to him, and how much they’re actually rooting for him in these books.
MPS: Darius is one of the best antagonists in recent crime fiction. He is as smart as he is unscrupulous and even has a complex set of justice. What is it like writing for him?
SH: An antagonist like Darius Cole has to be a complex, fully realized character, with his own reasons for doing what he does – reasons that make perfect sense in his own world. Hemingway said the writer’s job is to understand, not judge. I just try to make him as real as possible, and let the reader do the judging.
MPS: There are at least four major characters plotting their fate against each other like chess players. How much pre-planning went into Exit Strategy?
SH: I knew from the beginning where each character would be in the end. The challenge was to make those threads all come together in a way that was both surprising and satisfying at the same time. But that was really the main theme of this book – each character had his or her own “exit strategy,” trying to escape from his or her own personal prison.