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Blood Is the Sky (Alex McKnight Series #5)
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Blood Is the Sky (Alex McKnight Series #5)

4.3 18
by Steve Hamilton

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A new trade paperback edition of one of the most acclaimed novels in Steve Hamilton's New York Times bestselling series

Before Blood is the Sky, the Alex McKnight series had already hit the USA Today bestseller list and won awards, but this novel took Steve Hamilton to a whole new level. This newly repackaged edition gives readers a


A new trade paperback edition of one of the most acclaimed novels in Steve Hamilton's New York Times bestselling series

Before Blood is the Sky, the Alex McKnight series had already hit the USA Today bestseller list and won awards, but this novel took Steve Hamilton to a whole new level. This newly repackaged edition gives readers a chance to rediscover this standout tale set in the forests of northern Ontario, a land of savage beauty and sudden danger, where some secrets just won't stay buried. 


Alex McKnight isn't a man with many friends, but the few he has know they're never alone in a fix. So when Vinnie LeBlanc asks for his help in taking a trip deep into Canada in search of his missing brother, the Ojibwa Indian knows he can count on Alex. Tom LeBlanc had taken a job as hunting guide for a rough crew of Detroit "businessmen." The group was due back days ago, yet there's been no sign of them, and there's mounting evidence of something odd about their disappearing act. The trackless forests of northern Ontario keep many secrets, but none more shocking than the one that Alex is about to uncover. And the more closely Alex looks for answers, the more questions there become.

"Easily Steve Hamilton's best novel so far—therefore an automatic book of the year. Everything is here—his trademark sense of place, vivid, resonant characters, and a plot that will break your heart." —Lee Child

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The best private eye novel—heck, maybe the best novel—I've read this year." —Harlan Coben

"The best mysteries are about the past coming up out of the ground and grabbing the present by the throat. . . . Blood is the Sky fills that bill and then some. This is his best yet." —Michael Connelly

"Steve Hamilton writes tough, passionate novels with a strong emphasis on heart and humanity. His latest flat-out smokes. This is crime writing at its very best." —George Pelecanos

Publishers Weekly
Edgar winner Hamilton's engrossing novel of revenge, the fifth in his Alex McKnight series (after 2002's North of Nowhere), alternates between well-paced action fraught with danger and Alex's slow, meticulous inquiries. A former Detroit cop sidelined by a bullet, Alex is living quietly in Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula when he agrees to help an Ojibway friend, Vinnie Red Sky LeBlanc. Vinnie's searching for his black sheep brother, Tom, who hasn't returned from a job guiding a hunting party of wealthy Detroit men in the Canadian wilderness. The staff of an isolated lodge on an island-dotted lake arouses Alex and Vinnie's suspicions with their unsatisfactory explanations about the hunting party's trip. Then the anxious wives report their husbands are missing to the Ontario Provincial Police, leading Alex and Vinnie deeper into an investigation that eventually points to a crime in Detroit in 1985. The fate of Tom's hunting party becomes apparent early on, as the reader gets drawn into a complex series of inexplicable, and highly improbable, coincidences. Nonetheless, Hamilton develops his plot carefully. A fine writer, he excels at describing the lonely locale as well as depicting such memorable characters as tough-minded cop Natalie Reynaud and Maskwa, a 70-year-old Cree still flying his clapped-out plane around the Canadian skies. (June 12) Forecast: Advance praise from some big guns-Harlan Coben, T. Jefferson Parker, Lee Child, George P. Pelacanos-plus a 15-city author tour should help push this toward bestseller territory. The Native American angle will draw Hillerman fans. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this fifth novel featuring Alex McKnight, a former Detroit policeman who now lives in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Alex goes to Canada to help find Tom, the missing brother of his friend Vinnie Le Blanc. A convicted felon who cannot legally leave the United States, Tom borrowed Vinnie's wallet and identification papers so that he could cross the border to make money as a guide on a moose hunt. Consequently, the Le Blanc family is not happy with Vinnie's decision to help his depressed and unemployed brother and asks Alex to accompany Vinnie to Canada to bring Tom back. The men travel to a lonely Ontario lodge, where they find that Tom's party of five hunters had made arrangements to go to an even more remote cabin. From this point on, the plot picks up speed. The pace is relentless and the action violent and disturbing. Hamilton, winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2000 for A Cold Day in Paradise, never fails to deliver a superb mystery and a cliffhanger of a thriller. This is for all mystery collections but not for all readers beacuse of the graphic death scenes.-Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-University Heights P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the temperature periodically checks in at 30 below, everybody knows it’s crazy to start rebuilding a log cabin in October. Even Alex McKnight, ex–Detroit cop, ex–minor-league catcher, ex-p.i., ex-husband, knows it’s crazy. But it was his old man’s cabin, and it got savaged by a sociopath, and Alex, as appreciative readers have learned by now (North of Nowhere, 2002, etc.), marches to a bring-your-own drummer. Sighing, his best friend Vinnie (Red Sky) LeBlanc brings his tool kit nevertheless. For a while the work goes remarkably well, but then word comes down from the Ojibway rez that Vinnie’s brother Tom, a professional guide, has been lost in the Canadian woods. It’s not like Tom to get lost anywhere. And it’s not sensible for Tom to get lost in Canada, since leaving the country is a parole violation, and free-spirited Tom has unresolved issues with the state prison system. So Vinnie has no choice but to go after his brother, and Alex no choice but to go after Vinnie. It’s a perilous journey, with violence and death as pervasive as the punishing cold. But for Alex at least, redemption is there, too. At journey’s outset, someone says to him, "You have such a lonely heart, it’s hard to even look at you." By journey’s end, the McKnight heart is just a bit less lonely. Hamilton won an Edgar and an Anthony in 1998 for A Cold Day in Paradise. This smart, brisk, twisty tale is even better. Author tour

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Alex McKnight Series , #5
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Steve Hamilton


Copyright © 2003 Steve Hamilton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0312301154

Chapter One

I saw a lot of fires when I was a cop in Detroit. I was supposed to help secure the scene and then get the hell out of the way, but sometimes I'd stick around and watch the firefighters doing their work. I saw some real battles, but when they were done, the building would always be standing. That was the thing that got to me. The windows would be blown out, and maybe there'd be a big hole in the roof, but the building would still be there.

Years later, I watched a Lake Superior storm taking down a boathouse. When the storm let up, there was nothing left but a concrete slab covered with sand. It wasn't surprising. Anyone who lives up here knows that water is stronger than fire. Water wins that one going away. But at least water cleans up after itself. It does the job all the way. When water destroys, it makes everything look new. It can even be beautiful.

Fire doesn't do that. When a fire is done, what's left is only half destroyed. It is charred and brittle. It is obscene. There is nothing so ugly in all the world as what a fire leaves behind, covered in ashes and smoke and a smell you'll think about every day for the rest of your life.

That's why I had to start rebuilding the cabin. Maybe I was fooling myself, but it was something I had to do. Even though the days were getting shorter. Even though the pine trees were bending in the cold October wind. No man in his right mind would have started rebuilding then. So of course I did.

I had already taken away most of the old wood, those logs that would have lasted another three hundred years if they hadn't burned. I had hauled them away along with the pipes burned black and the bed frames twisted by the heat. There was nothing now but the stone foundation, stripped of the wooden floor, and the chimney, the last thing my father had made with his bare hands before he died. I knew that the snow would come, and it would cover the black stains on the ground, and the chimney would stand alone in the cold silence like a grave marker. I wasn't going to let that happen.

The rebuilding didn't start well. The man who said he'd be there on Monday with my white pine logs rolled up on Wednesday morning, acting like he had nothing to apologize for. He had one of those long flatbeds with a crane on it, with enough lifting power to set every last log down as gently as a teacup. But it took him all morning to clear the truck, and he damn near knocked over the chimney in the process. Then he stood around for a while, trying to tell me about his own cabin down in Traverse City. "The cabins I passed on the way in," he finally said. "You built those?"

"My father did."

"Looks like you had a big one here," he said. He hitched his pants up as he looked around the clearing. "What happened? Did it burn down?"

"It did."

"Hell of a thing," he said. "You gotta be careful with those wood stoves."

"I can't argue with that."

"Looks like you learned the hard way."

I let a few seconds tick by. "It wasn't a wood stove," I finally said. "Somebody burned it down."

"You're shittin' me."

"This gentleman and I, we had a little disagreement."

It took a moment for that one to sink in. "Are you shittin' me, man? You gotta be shittin' me."

"You don't have to believe it."

"I suppose you're gonna rebuild this all by yourself, too."

"I'm gonna try."

"Seriously, where's all your help at?"

"If I need help, I'll get it."

"It's October," he said. "You're not thinking of starting this now, are you?"

"I'd have to be crazy, you mean."

"Is what I'm saying, yeah. Unless you're just shittin' me some more."

"Well, I appreciate your concern," I said. "And I appreciate you bringing up my logs. You were only two days late. Have a good trip back home."

He was still shaking his head as he drove away. I listened to the distant sound of his truck as he rumbled onto the main road and headed south. When he was gone, there was nothing left to hear but a steady wind coming off the lake.

"Well, Pops," I said to the wind, "let's see if I remember how to do this."

This was the cabin he had built in the summers of 1980 and 1981. I helped him for a few weeks in that second year. I was already out of baseball and working as a police officer in Detroit, and this was my last attempt to make peace with him. The days were hot. I remember that. And as I helped him peel and scribe the logs, it brought back yet another summer, back in 1968, the first time I had ever been up here in Paradise, Michigan. I was only seventeen then, with one more year of school ahead of me before heading off to single-A ball in Sarasota. He wanted me to go to college, but I had my own ideas. Thirteen years later, he finished this cabin, his biggest and best. His masterpiece. Six months after that he was dead.

The cabin may have burned to the ground, but at least we had those summers.

Twenty years later, on a cold October day, I started all over again. I cut the sill logs first, the logs that would run along the bottom of each wall, then secured them to the foundation with j bolts. I cut a groove along the outside edge with the chain saw, just as he had taught me. When it rained, the water would collect in the groove and drip away instead of running down the foundation. Then I cut the grooves for the floor joists. I put rough plywood down for the time being-I'd put the nice hardwood floorboards down when the outside was finished.

That was the first day.

When the light was gone, I went down to the Glasgow Inn for dinner. My friend Jackie owns the place. If you ever find yourself in Paradise, just go to the one blinking light in the center of town, then go north another hundred yards or so. It'll be there on the right. When you step into the place, you won't see a typical American bar-there are no mirrors to stare into while you drink, no smoky dark corners to nurse a bad mood in. The chairs are comfortable, there's a fire going in the hearth every night, regardless of the weather, and there's a man there named Jackie Connery who looks like an old Scottish golf caddie. If you ask him the right way, Jackie will even risk his liquor license and give you a cold Canadian beer.

I take that last part back. Those Canadian beers are just for me.

I felt like hell the next morning. My hands were sore, my arms were sore, my legs were sore, and my back was sore. Aside from that I was fine.

I had my coffee and looked up at the dark clouds. Rain was the last thing I needed, because today was the day I'd start building the walls.

I scribed each log the way my father had done. I did most of the heavy cutting with the chain saw, stopping every half hour to sharpen it. I used an ax to cut the notches, keeping both hands together as I swung it, like a baseball bat. That much he didn't have to teach me. You can't be accurate with your hands apart.

Of course, cutting the scarf just right is the hard part. Or as the old man liked to say, this is where you separated the men from the boys. The idea is to cut it so perfectly that one log will rest on top of the other with no daylight in between. If you do it right, you don't need any chinking. If you don't do it right, then God help you. You've got no business building a cabin in the first place.

The first log I tried cutting that morning, I didn't get right. The second log was worse. The third log you could have put in a carnival and charged people five dollars a head to come laugh at it.

The wind picked up. It looked like rain was coming. I kept working. I was halfway through the fourth log when the hornets attacked me.

The nest was hanging from one of the birch trees. They had already been smoked out the night of the fire, the nest partially caved in by the spray of the fire hoses. They were trying to rebuild, just like I was, but they had run out of time. Now half-crazed by the cold weather, most of them near the end of their natural lives, they saw me moving around below them, rattling around with my chain saw. They decided to go down fighting.

I slapped two off the back of my neck, another off my arm. "Crazy fucking things! Get away from me!" The next one caught me right on the cheek and that was it for me. The day was already going bad enough.

I had my extension ladder there, figuring I'd need it eventually, so I braced it up against the birch tree and climbed up with my ax. I was just about to swing at the branch. I was going to take the whole thing down with one good whack, and then I was going to soak the nest with gasoline and set it on fire. Knowing me, I would have emptied the can, a full two gallons of gasoline, and then I would have thrown a lit match right in the middle of it. All the leaves on the ground would have gone up at once and I'd be running around with my pants on fire and both eyebrows singed right off my face.

I stopped myself just in time.

I took a deep breath and climbed back down the ladder. I dropped the ax.

It wasn't worth it. Watching the nest burn, sending the rest of those hornets to hell. They'd all be dead in another week, anyway.

It was a lesson I had taken most of my life to learn. Sometimes you have to let things go.

The rain came. The dark clouds stayed in the sky. I went back to work.

I had come back up here in 1987. My marriage was over and I was off the police force, with a dead partner in the ground and a bullet in my chest. I came up here intending to sell off the land and the six cabins my father had built, but I didn't do it. Somehow the Upper Peninsula was just what I needed. It was cold and unforgiving, even in the heart of summer. There was a terrible beauty to the place, and I could be alone up here in a part of the world where being alone was the rule and not the exception. I moved into the first cabin, the cabin I had helped him build myself, back when I was seventeen years old. I stayed up here and lived day to day and never thought I'd have to face my past again.

That didn't work. It never does.

Hours after I called it a day, I could still feel the buzz of the chain saw in my hands. There was a deep ache in my shoulder, right where they had taken the other two bullets out.

"What was it this time?" Jackie said. He slid a cold Canadian my way.

He was talking about my face, of course. There was a nice little swollen knot under my eye. Whenever something goes wrong, I end up wearing it on my face.

"Hornets," I said.

"How's the cabin going?"

"It's a little slow."

He nodded his head. He didn't say a word about how late it was in the season or how much of a fool I was. Jackie understood why I needed to do this.

"You know who could help you," he said.

I knew. I took a long pull off the bottle and then set it back down on the bar. "I've got to get some sleep," I said. Then I left.

I was just as sore the next morning, but somehow everything felt different. It was all coming back to me, the way you let the chain saw and the ax do the work, the way you work with the grain of the log instead of fighting against it. The logs started fitting together the way they were supposed to. I had the walls two logs high by lunchtime. Of course, that meant it was getting harder and harder to wrestle the logs into position. I'd have to start using the ramps soon, and eventually I'd have to set up some kind of skyline. That would slow me down.

Hell, maybe Jackie was right. There was one man who could really help me.

But I'd be damned if I was going to go ask him.

My father bad bought all the land on both sides of this old logging road, nearly a hundred acres in all. He built the six cabins and lived in each one of them off and on over the years, renting out the others to tourists in the summer, hunters in the fall, and snow-mobilers in the winter. When I came up here and moved into the first cabin, I kept renting out the rest of them. It was a good way to stay busy without having to go anywhere.

A few years after I moved in, somebody bought the couple of acres between my father's land and the main road. I was a little worried about what the new owner might do to that land. I had visions of a triple-decker summer home, with every tree knocked down so they could maybe get a view of the lake. But it didn't happen that way. It was one man, and I watched him build his own cabin by hand. If my father had been around to see it, he would have approved of this man's work.

I got to know him eventually. You don't live on the same road up here with one other person without running into each other. I'd plow the road for him. He'd give me some of the venison from his hunts. He didn't drink, so we never did that together, but we did share an adventure or two. I even played in goal one night for his hockey team. The fact that he was an Ojibwa Indian never got in the way of our friendship.

Until one day he had to make a choice.

I didn't hear his truck pull up. With the chain saw roaring away, I wouldn't have heard a tank battalion. I happened to glance at the road and saw his truck parked there. Vinnie Red Sky LeBlanc was standing next to it, watching me. He was wearing his denim jacket with the fur around the collar. I had no idea how long he'd been there.

I shut the chain saw down and wiped my forehead with my sleeve.

"You're gonna go deaf," he said. "Where's your ear protection?"

"I left them around here someplace. Just can't find them."

He shook his head at that, then walked right past me to the stacks of logs. Like many Bay Mills Ojibwa, you had to look twice to see the Indian in him. There was a little extra width to his high cheekbones, and a certain calmness in his eyes when he looked at you. You always got the feeling he was thinking carefully about what to say before he said it.

"White pine," he said.

"Of course."

"Where'd it come from?"

"Place down near Traverse City."

"I thought I saw a truck going by," he said. "That was what, Wednesday?"

"He was supposed to be here Monday."

"Couple of these logs I wouldn't use on a doghouse," he said. "Like this one right here."

"I know. I was gonna put that one aside."

He slipped his hands under the log and lifted it. He was maybe three inches shorter than me, and thirty pounds lighter, but I wouldn't have wanted to fight the man, on the ice or off. He carried the log a few steps and tossed it in the brush.

"That'll be your waste pile," he said. "I see another one right down here."

"You don't have to do that, Vinnie. I know which ones are bad."

He went over to the cabin, knelt down, and ran his hand along one of the logs. "You know which ones are bad," he said, "and yet this one right here seems to be part of your wall already."

"When did you become the county inspector?" I said. "I didn't see it in the newspaper."


Excerpted from BLOOD IS THE SKY by Steve Hamilton Copyright © 2003 by Steve Hamilton
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

STEVE HAMILTON’s first Alex McKnight novel, A Cold Day in Paradise, won both an Edgar and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel. The Lock Artist was named a New York Times Notable Crime Book, received an Alex Award from the American Library Association, and then went on to win the Edgar Award for Best Novel, making him only the second author (after Ross Thomas) to win Edgars for both Best First Novel and Best Novel. He now lives in Cottekill, New York, with his wife and their two children.

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Blood Is the Sky (Alex McKnight Series #5) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been waiting for the next John Sandford novel, picked up some novels at the library and found this one which was a pleasant surprise - a good read and well written!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Blood Is The Sky - Steve Hamilton This was my first Alex McKnight novel and it blew me away. Alex McKnight, former Detroit police detective, beings to rebuild his previously destroyed (the last book maybe) log cabin in Paradise, Michigan, when a friend appears with bad news. Vinnie has lost his brother and needs Alex's help to find him. The two set off on a trail which takes them into the mountains and lakes of deepest Canada. Switched identities, fearsome bears, moose with bad road sense and a deep, dark conspiracy test Alex and Vinnie's resilience and relationship to the limit. At once sad and funny, Hamilton has a great way of describing his surroundings, in what is obviously a well researched or well loved locality. You can feel the cold clammy weather under your shirt and you can imagine the miles and miles of unbroken forestland ahead of you. The camaraderie between Alex and Vinnie is excellent and all the other characters are carefully drawn. In summary; great characters and an excellent plot, with a few twists to keep you on your feet, make this a sure fire award winner in the thriller genre. Highly recommended. Andrew Poole webmaster@reachercreatures.com
harstan More than 1 year ago
Though it is October and winter is establishing its frozen grip on Michigan¿s Upper Peninsula, Alex McKnight begins rebuilding his devastated cabin. The ex everything (minor-league catcher, cop, and private investigator, et al) feels he must complete this job now as his humble abode, wrecked by a nut case, once belonged to his dad. His stoic best friend Vinnie ¿Red Sky¿ LeBlanc reluctantly helps though he thinks Alex should add asylum time to his resume.

Works stops when Vinnie learns that his brother Tom, a professional guide currently escorting a group in the Canadian woods, is lost. This seems out of character for a skilled expert like Tom, which worries Vinnie as much as his concern that his sibling¿s parole officer might learn about the parole violation of crossing the border. Vinnie heads north while Alex follows his friend. Neither realizes that the biting cold is not the nightmare on this journey.

Edgar and Shamus Award winner, Steve Hamilton has written his best mystery to date, which seems impossible, as the McKnight series is one of the best of the last few years. The story line twists and turns keeping the reader guessing as to what the heroes will find behind the next corner yet keeps a fast albeit cold pace without losing the prime plot. In spite of the frozen tundra, Alex seems warmer yet not mellower than he has previously appeared and the support cast provides the depth to a grand slam tale.

Harriet Klausner

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a fan of this series. Hamilton is a good story teller. His descriptions of the UP are accurate and his chatacters are interesting and believable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent read highly recommended the cream of the top
tedfeit0 More than 1 year ago
What are friends for? Well, Alex McKnight demonstrates just that in this novel which takes him and his erstwhile friend, Vinnie Le Blanc, on a stormy adventure way up in the wilds of northern Canada. It starts when Vinnie, with whom Alex has been at odds since an event in the previous novel in the series, asks Alex to help him find his brother, who is days overdue returning home after accompanying a hunting party as their scout at a Canadian lodge. To complicate matters, Vinnie’s brother Tom is on parole and is forbidden to leave the country. So he and Vinnie trade identities. Alex and his friend drive for hours until they reach the lodge, and there is no sign of Tom or the hunting party. But something seems “off,” and they begin to scout the area where the group was housed at a lake further north. And thereby hangs a gruesome tale. The author, known for his vivid descriptions of the Upper Michigan peninsula, shows an equal facility for the vast untamed wilderness of northern Canada. He has written a taut tale filled with danger and violence. And at the end, lays the seeds of Alex’s further adventures yet to come. Recommended.
LynnS More than 1 year ago
Great Book. I began the series at the beginning and each book gets better and better.
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This has been the best in the series so far. Great read!
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ChuckMi More than 1 year ago
I love this McKnight series. Lots of fast-paced action and great locales. I can't read them fast enough. I am waiting for the next one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Outstanding. If you follow Alex you know he will do anything for his friend Vinnie. The story captures your interest from the first nail hammered in rebuilding the burned cabin.