Interview With Glen Erik Hamilton

Mercy River, Glen Erik Hamilton’s third outing with ex-Army Ranger and ex (for the most part) thief Van Shaw, plays to his military background. When an army pal is charged for murder, a group of criminally bent rangers hold the evidence to clear him and will give it to Van if he helps them locate contraband that was taken from them. The book is topical with a moody, hard boiled attitude. Glen was kind enough to talk to us about it.

Mercy River: A Van Shaw Novel Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: With the previous books, you’ve mainly looked at Van’s criminal past, what did you want to explore about his time in the military?

Glen Erik Hamilton: In Mercy River, Van is among hundreds of his fellow Special Ops veterans, and that offers a chance to show both how Van is similar to his brothers in arms – most notably in his unwavering dedication to protect people for whom he cares – and also how he’s not your average Ranger, if there is such a thing.  That intense military training forged something unique out of the raw ore of Van’s very unusual upbringing.

Specifically, readers get a view into some of Van’s earliest experiences in the Army – the uncompromising selection process for the 75th Ranger Regiment and the leadership program of Ranger School.  These trials formed the foundation for his adult self, stepping away from the criminal perspective of his youth. They also established lifelong friendships, something that the solitary Van needed more than he knew.

MPS: You also took him out of his Seattle stomping ground and put him in a small town. Did that present any challenges?

GEH: Challenges and opportunities. Unlike Van’s established haunts, I had to create the Oregon town of Mercy River and its surrounding Griffon County from scratch.  Which of course means I stole aspects liberally from real places. I visited mall towns (and ghost towns) and dramatic landscapes in sparsely populated counties like Wheeler and Wasco. People might have an image already in their mind when you say Seattle or Portland, but for more remote parts of Oregon, a writer needs to paint the picture of these beautiful and somewhat dangerous environs and provide some insight into a town struggling to survive.

The opportunities, of course, come from playing God as a fiction writer.  Take a gigantic rock formation here, an abandoned mine from there, unique features of the local towns, and mix and match. I get to place Van’s adventures in the most striking locations imaginable. I also get to invent the history, politics, and law enforcement of the community of Mercy River, all of which play into the mystery Van must solve to save his friend.

As someone who has now lives away from your native Northwest, does it give you a different perspective when writing about it?

Absolutely – moving away from Seattle is what originally inspired me to write about it. The city has changed so dramatically in the past decade, it’s hard to encompass all of its transformations. For example, the gap between the haves and have-nots has become a chasm, and large swaths of the city have been razed and rebuilt, for good or ill. I have to – slash – get to visit Seattle frequently just to try and keep a pulse on current events and the challenges facing the Puget Sound area.

MPS: The book deals with both white supremacists and opioids, two things that have been in the news a lot. Is there a responsibility an author has when dealing with current topics?

GEH: First and foremost, a thriller has to entertain.  But when my books involve subjects such as post-traumatic stress, or the opioid crisis, or the encroaching white nationalist movement, then I aim to use those story points as real matters in Van’s world and not just buzzwords.  Van’s fictional fight is grounded in our battles to conquer those very real horrors. And if I’m very fortunate, his endurance might offer readers hope for our own victory.

MPS: You have some excellent action and heist sequences in the book. What do you keep in mind when writing those parts?

GEH: Thank you! First and foremost, any action scene has to be very clear to the reader.* That means understanding the geography of location and characters, the immediate danger, and the intent the protagonist has at any given moment.  There are some rules of thumb: The faster the action, the slower the pace of the writing, and the shorter the sentences. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the writing will feel faster to readers, and action scenes are all about gut feelings.  If my pulse quickens when I’m re-reading a draft – and bear in mind I already know what’s going to happen because I wrote the darn thing – then I’m on the right track.

*The exception to the “clarity” rule is when the protagonist’s head is addled due to getting hit or getting doped.  That can be exciting too, as the hero or heroine scrambles to figure out what the heck is happening.

MPS: As a writer, what makes Van Shaw a character coming back to?

GEH: Van has experienced at least one full lifetime’s worth of drama and action, but he’s still a young man.  While he might never admit it to himself, a part of him did not expect to survive this long. Instinctively, Van approached his time in Special Operations with the mindset of a samurai, being prepared to die any day.  Now that he’s out in the world he’s having to learn skills that aren’t just tactical in nature. For example, forming lasting relationships and being part of a family. He also has to wrestle with his purpose in life, given that what he’s really good at – crime, violence, and ticking off dangerous people – often clash with the moral center he’s trying very hard to hang onto.  That’s a lot of fun for me to write. I learn new things about Van with every book, and hope readers enjoy his growth as much as I do.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Glen Erik Hamilton

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Every Day Above GroundGlen Erik Hamilton’s latest novel to feature Afghan vet and “retired” heistman Van Shaw, has Shaw pulled back into one last score, but soon learns the gold bars he was to steal were bait for a trap. With military trained killers after him, Van must find out who set this up and if he’s the intended victim. Mr. Hamilton was kind enough to take a few questions about the book.

MysteryPeople Scott: This was the first time we’ve seen Van fully commit to a heist. What made you decide to have him commit to his old life with less life-or-death circumstances in the balance?

Glen Erik Hamilton: Although Van and his partner are technically committing burglary (along with a scattering of other light felonies), Van has convinced himself that it’s not harmful. The building is abandoned, and the safe they are cracking is thought to be long forgotten, its owner having died in prison. Van’s friend Hollis uses the analogy of a penny on the sidewalk – does it really belong to anyone? Combine that morally gray area with the fact that Van will lose his home unless he finds a way to pay the taxes and other money owed, and for him, it’s a one-time bending of his rules. How many of us wouldn’t make the same choice?

MPS: This book has shoot outs, car chases, and an underground fight match. Did you set out to make a more visceral, action-oriented book?

GEH: Not initially, but I’m glad it got there! Most of that action comes from Van being caught between two equally ruthless factions. Neither group – whether high-end enforcers or street-level thugs – is likely to balk at violence. Having set up that situation for Van, I enjoyed having him scramble and scrap just to keep from getting crushed. The best defense is a good offense.

MPS: In your latest, you introduce the character of Cyndra, a young daughter of Van’s partner. What did you want to do with a character who is a mirror of Van’s youth?

GEH: Van certainly sees echoes of his own past in Cyndra. They have both been in the foster system, and both have had parental figures in prison. Cyndra, if anything, has had it harder than Van did. Despite that, she’s a different generation, and her experience isn’t his. She’s not being raised as a criminal, as he was. So he cautions himself not to over-identify with this kid who shows up, or assume that she can deal with tougher situations than a thirteen-year-old should have to handle. That said, she’s a tough kid, and he admires her guts.

MPS: A subplot of Van’s childhood has been woven through all the books. What do you believe that adds to the books?

GEH: Besides the fun of writing them – I really enjoy creating short vignettes showing Van as a kid – I think those interstitial chapters give both me and the reader a deeper understanding of Van’s motivations. He’s not the most introspective adult, especially in his communication with those close to him. Seeing him as a vulnerable and brash boy of twelve helps us understand him. I include myself in that, because a lot of writing happens subconsciously. Those scenes in the past help me decipher the theme I may have been unaware of when writing the larger story in its first draft.

MPS: As a writer, what makes Van Shaw a character worth coming back to?

GEH: He’s a curious cat. On the surface, he’s a tough, highly experienced former soldier capable of handling any crisis. But his upbringing gives him a very flexible view of right and wrong, and a suspicious eye toward the law’s ability to protect and serve. Add the fact that subconsciously (there’s that word again) Van never expected to live as long as he has. Emotionally speaking, he’s behind the curve. He’s got a lot of growth ahead of him. From what readers have told me, they love all the action and the thrills and the mystery, but it’s the character relationships that keep them coming back. They want to know what’s next for Van and the people in his life. So do I.

You can find copies of Glen Erik Hamilton’s latest on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

 

Three Picks for August

  • Selected by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9780735212459Nothing Stays Buried by PJ Tracy

The Monkeewrench Gang goes to rural Minnesota to assist with a missing persons case only to be drawn into the plot of a serial killer and drug cartels. The fine plotting and stand out ensemble of characters make Monkeewrench a stand out in is series thrillers. Co-author Traci Lambrecht will joining Mark Pryor and James Ziskin for our Scene Of The Crime discussion on Saturday, August 26th at 6 PM. You can find copies of Nothing Stays Buried on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

9780374253370Safe by Ryan Gattis

A former gang banger turned DEA safe cracker thinks he’s found a way to redemption by stealing a huge sum of drug money, placing him between both sides of the law. A tight yet haunting crime novel where Gattis uses his knowledge of L.A.’s toughest streets to dive into the humanity of his characters. You can find copies of Nothing Stays Buried on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

97800625673831Every Day Above Ground by Glen Eric Hamilton

Former soldier and former thief Van Shaw goes back to his criminal ways, for one last time he tells himself, for a fortune in gold, only to find himself, for fortune of gold. The job puts them in the sights of some highly trained killers. One of the most intriguing series characters in modern crime fiction. You can find copies of Every Day Above Ground on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

Three Picks for July

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

July will see new books from from some of this decade’s best series.

The Devil’s Muse by Bill Loehfelm9780374279776

The latest featuring New Orleans patrolwoman Maureen Coughlin has her trying to solve a shooting during the Mardi Gras parade. Loehfelm brings immediacy through use of procedure, place, and character. Bill will be here July 26th for our New Voices In Noir panel with Jordan Harper and Rob Hart. The Devil’s Muse comes out July 11 – pre-order now!

The Woman From Prague by Rob Hart9781943818471

Ash McKenna’s fourth outing has him in the Czech city blackmailed by a shadowy figure who works for the government to intercept a package before it is handed off from the lady in the title to another woman. Spoiler alert, things go wrong and violent. A well crafted thriller that skimps on neither action or character. Rob will be here July 26th for our New Voices In Noir panel with Jordan Harper and Bill Loehfelm. The Woman From Prague comes out July 11 pre-order now!

9780062567383Every Day Above Ground by Glen Erik Hamilton

Former crook and army ranger Van Shaw is back on the streets pulled back into a life of crime, ripping a dead drug dealers gold. Things are not what they appear when he finds himself set up. Few balance hard boiled crime and humanism as well as Glen Erik Hamilton. Every Day Above Ground comes out July 26 – pre-order now! 

Guest Post: Glen Erik Hamilton on “Friends with Words”

Hard Cold Winter, Glen Erik Hamilton’s follow-up to his highly regarded debut, Past Crimes, puts his former criminal and soldier into even a tougher spot than in the first book. In Hard Cold Winter, Hamilton’s protagonist gets involved with the murder of a prominent Seattle citizen’s son and the sister of one of his shady friends from the past. In this guest blog post he sent along, Hamilton discusses his bookshelf, and how he uses different works for different forms of inspiration. 


Friends with Words

© 2016 Glen Erik Hamilton

I have a bookshelf. Quite a few shelves, of course, but this one particular shelf is within reach of the little desk where I do most of my writing. Too easy a reach.

We’re not a procrastination, the books seem to say. Not like playing with the cat, or the horrible abyss of the internet. We’ll HELP you.

Shut up, you novels. Later. I’ve got an hour scheduled for reading later. That’s my reward for getting these pages done.

I turn back to the keyboard. Back to typing, with hands slightly shaky.

Some authors choose not to indulge in reading other fiction while they are hammering out the first draft of their latest work. A hardcore few go so far as to avoid reading at all, except between books. They fear that the phrases or plot twists or rhythms they read will somehow be replicated in their writing, and they might wind up with a pale imitation of their favorite author, or worse, a Frankensteinian mishmash of colliding styles. Better to abstain, and keep their pages pure.

That brand of austerity doesn’t work for me. I’m hardly ever between books, for one thing. Recently, I saw a quote from Lawrence Kasdan (Yes, on the internet; don’t judge me.) He said: “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”

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Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of 2015 So Far

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of The Year So Far

We are now in the last month of summer reading. If you want to go out with some quality crime fiction, here are some suggestions of books both talked about and deserving of attention. It was difficult to cut this list down and even when I did, I doubled up on a couple that shared a few traits.


the cartel1. The Cartel by Don Winslow

This mammoth, yet fast paced look at the war with the Mexican cartels is epic crime fiction at its finest. Full of emotion, great action, and sharply drawn characters, this book is destined to be on a lot of critics’ list for 2015 as well as becoming a classic. Even more entertaining, is that Winslow’s drug kingpin, Adan Barrera, has a lot in common with current fugitive Cartel boss, El Chapo.


bull mountainwhere all the light tends to go2. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich & Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy

Both of these rural noirs by debut authors show there is still a lot of life in the subgenre. These books view ideas of violence, kin, honor, and retribution with the eyes of an author with decades of experience and the energy of newcomer.


long and faraway gone3. The Long & Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The ambitious novel balances three mysteries to look at the ripples of a violent act and the effect it has on the survivors. Great pacing and clean, accessable style allow for this rich, multi-character story to flow beautifully.


bishops wife4. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Loosely based on a true crime, this book gives us an inside and very human view of modern Mormon society. Harrison balances both interior monologue and exterior dialogue to give us a main character who doesn’t know if she can always speak her mind.


doing the devil's work5. Doing The Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

A routine traffic stop for rookie patrolman Maureen Coughlin leads to a conspiracy involving a black drug dealer, white supremacists, guns, a prominent New Orleans family, and some of her fellow officers. Loehfelm renders the both the drudgery and danger of police work and the web of corruption that even ensnares good cops.


love and other wounds6. Love & Other Wounds by Jordan Harper

These short stories herald a great new voice in crime fiction. Harper has a cutting prose style that reveals the souls of violent men.


soil7. Soil by Jamie Kornegay

A mix of Southern gothic with psycho noir about a failed young farmer who finds a body on his flooded property. Kornegay knows how to capture people driven by their obsessions and at the end of their rope.


concrete angels8. Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

Abbott’s inverse retelling of Mildred Pierce has a classic feel even though the story about a daughter caught up in her mother’s mania and criminal schemes has a modern psychological bent. A page-turner in the best sense of the word.


past crimesthe devils share9. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton and The Devil’s Share by Wallace Stroby

Two great hard boiled tales from the criminal point of view. Whether Stroby’s heist woman or Hamilton’s “reformed” criminal out for revenge, these books deliver all the tropes with a fresh take and pathos.


all involved10. All Involved by Ryan Gattis

This tapestry of short stories that take place in L.A. during the six days of the Rodney King Riots is both blistering and human. A historical novel that has a lot to say about the present.


You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Glenn Hamilton

Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut, Past Crimes, is an engaging and fresh addition to the crime fiction genre. The story focuses on Van Shaw, a former thief, who learned from his grandfather, Dono. When he gets letter from Dono, asking to come back to their Seattle home, he finds the old man beaten to a coma. As Shaw searches for the perpetrators, he has to confront his past, his morality, and the relationship he had with Dono. We caught up with Mr. Hamilton to talk about the book, his lead, and his town.


MysteryPeople: Most “family crime” novels are a father and son relationship. What made you go with a grandfather as the patriarch?

Glen Erik Hamilton: I wanted a bit of remove between Van Shaw and his grandfather Dono. Putting a generation between them allows Dono to be a little more old-school Irish and mysterious than he might be if he were Van’s father. Dono doesn’t often explain things to Van like a parent would. It also lets me play a little with expectations, undercutting the idea that grandparents are doting and past their prime. Dono is neither of those things. And finally, it lets the two men be connected by their shared love for the woman they both lost, as daughter and mother.

MP: Past and present converse as well as converge in the novel – how did you approach this?

GEH: The main character is a man returning to his hometown, confronting a complicated past and attitudes that he had abruptly abandoned. If I were to write that solely in the present day, the amount of backstory could become awkward. I also wanted to see the lessons Van was learning as a young thief, and have Dono as an active character in that.

Those choices led to writing chapters – almost short stories – showing Van at different ages, and placing them in between the main action. They’re like stepping stones in a river. They allow a much richer understanding of all the characters involved, at least for me. I also think that the occasional digression makes the main story that much more engaging.

MP: Your characters are great for crime fiction since they are fully realized, yet hard to get a complete grasp on. How do you go about constructing your major characters?

GEH: It’s not a hugely conscious process for me. I do consider what the scene and the plot need, and whether there’s a relationship between characters I haven’t tried before. But I give new characters a little room to move, and they often cut their own path. I’ve had complete jackasses redeem themselves (at least a little) and heroes turn out to be unreliable. Some characters have even merged, when I realize that there are more bodies in the scene than required. When characters become recurring (intentionally or because they put a gun to my head) it’s because their dynamic with Van makes him think or feel a little more deeply.

“Past and present converse as well as converge in the novel…”

MP: Seattle comes off more gritty than other stories I’ve read or movies I’ve seen. What did you want to get across to the reader about your city?

GEH: Yeah, it’s not the Seattle you saw with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, or on “Frasier”. Would that we could all afford houseboats and apartments so posh that even their views are impossible. Seattle’s latest boom has been great in many ways, but it’s also driving a larger wedge between the haves and have-nots, who used to intermingle a lot more. Blue-collar neighborhoods of the city, which are still a huge part of shipping and other industries, are being steadily driven out by price pressures. Seattle is in danger of becoming San Francisco, too expensive for most locals to actually live in. That conflict is particularly interesting to me, since I think about how crime and criminals are also forced to change.

MP: This being your first novel, did you draw from any influences?

GEH: More than I can remember! But some of the more obvious early ones would be the Travis McGee series, with its hero scrounging a living off his wits and prowess in between the cracks of normal society. Robert B. Parker’s dialogue and sparse prose – characters implying a lot by what they don’t say. Discovering Martin Cruz Smith and Gorky Park was also a huge catalyst on my wanting to write; I love the way his heroes are usually beset on all sides. There’s a touch of Dame Agatha’s whodunits in there, too.

MP: Van should be a great series lead because he can go in any direction with a set of good friends who can pull him into some bad business. What do you see his main struggle being?

GEH: Van went straight from a criminal childhood into the rigors and structure of military life and Special Operations. He does have to find a new moral center, as you suggest, now that he’s been on both extremes. But he also has to learn how to be a functioning adult in civilian society, and that’s an alien landscape for him. He’s never had to look for a job before. He’s never planned for the future, because part of him never expected to live this long.

Of course, if Van is not very careful and very quick, that last problem will brutally solve itself…


You can find Past Crimes on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.