Night Work: A Novelby Steve Hamilton
With Night Work, award-winning author of the acclaimed Alex McKnight series Steve Hamilton delivers an atmospheric standalone thriller.
Joe Trumbull is not a man who scares easily. But tonight he is scared to death.
It's been two years since Joe's fiancée, Laurel, was murdered. Two years of grief and loneliness. On this hot summer night,/p>/p>/i>
With Night Work, award-winning author of the acclaimed Alex McKnight series Steve Hamilton delivers an atmospheric standalone thriller.
Joe Trumbull is not a man who scares easily. But tonight he is scared to death.
It's been two years since Joe's fiancée, Laurel, was murdered. Two years of grief and loneliness. On this hot summer night, he's finally going on a blind date, his first since Laurel's death. He's not looking for love, just testing the waters to see if it's possible to live a normal life again. And after the first awkward minutes, Joe starts to think this date wasn't such a bad idea after all. In fact, maybe it will turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to him.
He couldn't be more wrong. Because somehow, for reasons Joe doesn't yet understand, this one evening will mark the beginning of a new nightmare. A nightmare that will lead him to realize that the past is never past. And the worst is yet to come.
Edgar-winner Hamilton's first stand-alone crime thriller falls short of his excellent Alex McKnight series (A Stolen Season, etc.). When Joe Trumbull, a juvenile probation officer in Kingston, N.Y., finally decides to socialize two years after his fiancée's murder, his blind date winds up strangled to death hours after their meeting. The local police chief calls in a pair of state detectives, who make Joe their prime suspect after two more woman are murdered who recently had contact with him. A loner beset by nightmares living in a messy apartment above the gym where he boxes to keep in shape, Joe begins to investigate to clear his name. Though the usually reliable Hamilton nicely evokes life in Kingston and the Hudson River landscape, this search for a psychopathic killer disappoints with repetitive dead ends and a clichéd wounded protagonist who brings on the terrifying climax by working with no backup. Author tour. (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
In this first standalone from the Edgar and Shamus Award-winning author of the seven mysteries featuring Alex McKnight, a former Detroit cop living in Michigan's remote Upper Peninsula, Hamilton takes a new direction. Joe Trumbull is a juvenile probation officer in Kingston, NY, seeking solace in work to lessen the pain from his wife's unsolved strangulation two years earlier. When he reluctanctly goes on a blind date, the woman is found strangled the day after. Then a battered wife Joe tries to help also is strangled. Apparently, any woman he gets close to will die, and soon Joe is charged with the crimes. While the McKnight series has been praised for its sharply delineated locale, developing characters, and gripping plot twists, Joe Trumbull seems passive, full of self-pity, and not likely to appear in a second volume. Although Hamilton's many fans may want to read any of his books, those new to his work should start with one of the series. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ5/1/07; for an interview with Hamilton, see Mystery, LJ9/1/06.-Ed.]
— Mystery News
“Hamilton writes tough, passionate novels…This is crime writing at its very best.”
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Read an Excerpt
I was scared to death that night. I admit it.
I sat in my second-story window, taping my hands and looking down at the cars on the street. I should have been wearing a white undershirt to complete the picture, and playing my saxophone while the people passed below me on the hot sidewalk. If I could have played the damned thing worth a lick, I would have. Instead I just sat there and watched an early moon rise high above the buildings. When I saw it, I said to myself, here’s one more excuse not to go through with this. A full moon is nothing but trouble for me. If you think it’s an old wives’ tale, just ask anybody with a job like mine. Go ask a cop working the night shift, or a doctor in the emergency room. He’ll tell you. A full moon means a busy night.
I thought about finding some music to calm me down. Something slow and easy. But I figured no, that’ll just drive me nuts, so I went downstairs and jumped some rope. Then I worked the speed bag, one hand over the other as fast as I could, fast as a drum roll. I hit the heavy bag for a while, just long enough to make my hands hurt and my arms feel slightly numb for the rest of the evening. Anderson held the bag for me, and watched me with that knowing smile on his face.
“Somebody’s a little wired,” he said. “Don’t tell me you’re anxious about tonight.”
“Not at all.” A lie as big as the lump in my throat.
“Come on, Joe,” he said. He let go of the bag. “You’re acting like a kid.”
Good old Anderson. He was the owner of this old wreck of a place, this old bus station turned into a gym with two apartments upstairs. He was a good trainer, a good landlord, and an even better human being, but I wasn’t sure if I could deal with him today. Not on this day of all days.
“It’s been a while,” I said. “You know that.”
He knew. “Long enough,” he said. “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”
I didn’t have an answer to that, so I just wrapped him up in a sweaty bear hug. He tried to dodge me, but from what I hear he was a slow man even at his fighting weight in 1960. The years since hadn’t made him any faster.
“I’ve got to get dressed,” I said. “Go bother somebody else.”
“You’re gonna be fine, Joe. Just relax.”
“Easy for you to say.”
I left him there, went up the rickety old stairs two at a time, and hit the shower. This was my sad excuse for a home, this room and a half that had once been the bus station’s main office. It still held the faint smell of cigarettes and bus fumes, but at this point in my life it seemed to fit me. Or at least if it didn’t, it wasn’t something I even cared about. I stood in front of the closet and went through the shirts, looking for something that matched my dress pants.
“When in doubt,” I said. I picked out the white shirt, figuring white goes with anything, right? Then I had a ten-minute debate with myself on the tie issue. Red tie. Blue tie. The red tie won in a split decision.
When it was firmly knotted around my neck, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and took a good hard look at myself. Was I up for this?
Hell no. But it was too late to back out now. Even with a full moon.
I checked my messages. There was one from Howie, wishing me luck. He was my best friend, going all the way back to elementary school. Now he was a detective on the Kingston police force. What mattered tonight was that he knew how hard this would be. He was the only guy who really knew.
“I’ve got to get psyched for this,” I said. “Get my head on straight.” It was too early to leave yet, so I went back to the collection. Never mind slow and easy. I needed something huge, so I pulled out Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun. It’s a blistering assault on the ears, with eight of Europe’s strongest free jazz players going at it back in 1968 like it was the end of the world. Owning this album is probably illegal in many states.
I cranked it up to eleven and let Herr Brötzmann rattle the windows for me, along with most of my brain cells. It never failed. When it was done, the silence was even more deafening.
It was way too warm for a jacket, but I grabbed one anyway. With just a white shirt and a tie I’d look like the counterman at a muffler shop. I went back down the stairs, hoping to avoid the gym and any further helpful commentary from Anderson. Or any of the other muscleheads in the gym. Anderson had probably told every single last one of them.
“Hey, Joe!” he yelled after me. “How many cats were you strangling up there?”
I gave him a wave and was out the door.
The sun was low in the sky when I stepped out on Broadway. Kingston’s Broadway, that is, not to be confused with the Broadway in New York City, ninety miles down the river. We don’t have skyscrapers on our Broadway, or big theaters. But there’s a Planet Wings franchise across the street from me, and yes, they deliver.
I checked my watch. It wasn’t even seven o’clock yet, so I still had an hour to kill. I could have gone down to the Shamrock for a quick one, but then I figured no, that would be another room full of guys with advice for me. Might as well go uptown, find a quiet place where nobody knows me, and get my game face on.
I got my car out of the back lot, my old black Volkswagen with the big dent in the rear bumper. I headed up Broadway, past the YMCA and the diner, past the old brick buildings with the ancient lettering high on the sides. fine furniture. women’s clothing. From back before the malls came to the other side of town.
I drove past my office. Past the old Governor Clinton Hotel, which was now an old folks’ home, around the corner and past the stockade, to the original part of the city, over three hundred years old. Kingston was the first capital of New York State, until that day in 1777 when the British came to burn it down. On the plus side, that meant that no matter how badly things went this evening, it could only end up being the second-worst day in Kingston history.
I parked on Front Street. It was six thirty-five now. Only one thing I could think of doing.
I stepped into the Blue Jay Way and ordered a beer from the tall guy behind the bar. He must have been six foot six, easy. I took the bottle to the high table by the front window, hung my coat up on the hook, and sat down. I watched the people walk by and the slow procession of cars on Front Street.
The tie was a mistake, I thought, loosening it. It makes me look like I’m trying too hard. And I wonder what the odds are I’ll walk out of here and forget my jacket. Probably even money.
I honestly don’t drink much anymore, but I figured a couple of beers was exactly what I needed. Just enough to take the edge off things. Put everything in a slight fog. And damn, tonight it tasted pretty good, after a long Saturday in the gym, after a long week of chasing my clients around and trying to keep them on the path of righteousness.
I turned away from the window and looked around the bar. It had been totally redone since the last time I had been in here. New owners, a whole different feel to the place. People were throwing darts in the back. It must have been some kind of Saturday night league, a real serious setup, with two tournament-quality boards and bright track lighting over the whole deal. You probably brought your own darts to this place, and you probably had to be pretty damned good.
I could get into this, I thought. Something new to focus on. Something to lose myself in, if only for an hour or two. I was always up for that. Anything to get me out of my own head.
Just then somebody cranked up the jukebox, and I swear to God it was Michael Bolton’s voice suddenly filling the place, some song I couldn’t have named if you put a gun to my head. I looked around to see if it was somebody’s idea of a sick joke. It had to be one of the dart throwers, putting on the lamest excuse for music he could find just to throw off his buddy’s game.
But no, there was a woman standing there by the jukebox with a dreamy smile on her face, her head moving slowly to the music. She was getting out more singles from her purse, and nobody was there to stop her.
“’Nother beer?” It was the tall bartender standing over me.
“In a minute,” I said. “But you’re kidding me with the jukebox, right? You don’t actually have Michael Bolton in there.”
“What, you don’t like jazz?”
I waited for the ceiling to cave in on his head, or for the earth itself to crack open beneath his feet. “Please tell me you didn’t just call this music jazz.”
He smiled at me, went and grabbed the second Bud I didn’t ask for, and put it down in front of me. I shook my head and went back to looking out the window. It was just starting to get dark outside now. I could see a faint reflection of my face in the glass. I still didn’t look ready. Not by a long shot.
I tried to think of anything else in the world. I ran through my cases, all the clients I had seen that week. Summer is the absolute worst time of year for me. No school, no commitments, just long hot nights with everybody out on the streets, not necessarily looking for trouble but available if trouble happens to drive by.
The next song came on, and my hand on the Bible, it was Kenny G. On a jukebox in what looked like a perfectly normal bar. That clinched it for me, so I took one more long pull off the beer and left it there. I threw some money at the bartender before he could say a word and left.
I walked a half block down Front Street, past the Chinese place. The smell made me hungry, even though I was still way too nervous to eat anything. That made me think of dinner, which made me remember my jacket. I went back to the bar and grabbed it.
When I was back outside, I crossed the street this time and killed a few minutes looking at all the stuff in the pawnshop windows. I had bought my saxophone here, an old Selmer alto with gold finish. I practiced for at least an hour every day, but I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with it. But what the hell. It was another thing to occupy my mind. Pretending I could play the saxophone, pretending I could box. That and the work. The work was always there waiting for me.
I saw a new sax in the window. I thought to myself, maybe the one I had was defective. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t play anything harder than “This Old Man” after six weeks. But damn, three hundred more dollars.
Next to the sax was a mace, one of those big sticks with the spiked iron ball attached to one end with a chain. It looked like the real thing, too. Like you could cause some serious harm with it. It made me wonder what kind of life you’d have to be living if you woke up one morning and had to go pawn your mace.
A car drove by slowly, loud music throbbing in the warm night air. I could feel the bass notes under my feet. I took one quick look at the faces inside, saw only the glowing red tip of the driver’s cigarette. But the girl sitting next to him, I thought I recognized. Her head was tilted back, both of her hands held high through the moon roof, reaching for the stars.
I couldn’t even place the name, but I remembered something about a box cutter smuggled into school. She didn’t use it, I thought. That’s right. I remember now. In the moment of truth, she didn’t actually cut anybody. Assuming that’s the same girl . . . If it is, hell, she’s just out riding around on a hot night. No real trouble there.
I can’t help thinking this way. Everyone I see, especially the kids on the verge of adulthood, I imagine the traps dug on either side of them, the wild animals waiting at the bottom. Tiger on one side, alligator on the other. Just waiting. Most days it’s a useful way to see people. It makes me good at what I do. Which is usually the only reason I get up in the morning anymore. But eventually it takes its toll on me.
I walked by Artie’s, checked my watch, thought yeah, this is the place I really need. It was the only other bar on Front Street, now that JR’s had been turned into some kind of New Age body salon. Artie’s was old-school, the kind of place that was maybe eight feet wide, all the way back. You had to squeeze your way past the men on the stools. And no jukebox.
Yeah, a shot and another beer would work. Watch the game on the television above the bar. Maybe forget this other thing entirely. Just bag it and spend the evening right here.
I kept walking, avoiding that temptation. It was a beautiful night. Get some air, walk around a little more, get yourself psyched up.
I checked out the Uptown, the little jazz club on the corner. Having this place in town, it was a miracle. All of the other stuff that was going on here in uptown Kingston—the art galleries, the upscale antique stores, even the dance studio—it was all worth it if it meant having a real jazz club, too. We were just close enough to New York City that a really good player would make it up here once in a while. Tonight there was a trio scheduled—nobody I’d ever heard of, so it could have been three guys trying to be the Bill Evans Trio and sounding more like “Jazz-tastic” at the Holiday Inn. Or it could have been something real and amazing. Maybe I’d get over to hear for myself tonight, if I suddenly found myself free. Or hell, maybe if things went really, really well . . .
Yeah, right, Joe. That’s gonna happen. I checked my watch. Twenty minutes until Zero Hour. I walked around the block again. I walked slowly so I wouldn’t sweat. Last thing I needed. I checked my hair in a storefront window, straightened my tie. I didn’t look myself in the eye this time.
It was seven fifty, time to head over to Fair Street. I rounded the corner, past the Senate House. I didn’t stop to read the historic landmark signs. I could have recited them, I’d been in this town so long. All my life. I kept my head high, taking deep breaths, walking straight ahead to my final destination.
This is something you need to do, I thought. You know this. You set this up yourself and now it’s time to go through with it.
It was seven fifty-seven when I got there. In the past, it would have been a welcome sight. The brick walls, the red awnings, the gold letters stenciled on the windows. Le Canard Enchaîné. A real French place, run by a couple from Paris. I could see they were doing good business tonight. It was a perfect Saturday night, and I could hear people talking, laughing, enjoying themselves.
This will be easy, I told myself. It’s just a blind date, right? You’ve faced a lot worse. You sparred with Maurice and it only took nine stitches to sew up your eyebrow.
And on the job, hell. You’re a probation officer. You’ve had guns pointed at you. Knives. Two-by-fours. Garden hoses.
And then Laurel.
If you can face what they did to Laurel and still be standing here today . . . you can face anything.
Even a blind date.
I closed my eyes for a moment, took one more deep breath, and then opened the door.
After two long years, it was time to start my life again. Copyright © 2007 by Steve Hamilton. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
Steve Hamilton was born in Detroit and attended the University of Michigan, where he was awarded the prestigious Avery Hopwood Prize for writing. His first novel, A Cold Day in Paradise, won the PWA/SMP Best First Private Eye Novel Contest before going on to win both the Edgar and Shamus Awards for Best First Novel. In 2006, Steve won the Michigan Author Award for his outstanding body of work. He lives in Cottekill, New York, with his wife, Julia, and their two children.
Steve Hamilton was born and raised in Detroit, and graduated from the University of Michigan where he won the prestigious Hopwood Award for fiction. In 2006, he won the Michigan Author Award for his outstanding body of work. His novels have won numerous awards and media acclaim beginning with the very first in the Alex McKnight series, A Cold Day in Paradise, which won the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin's Press Award for Best First Mystery by an Unpublished Writer. Once published, it went on to win the MWA Edgar and the PWA Shamus Awards for Best First Novel, and was short-listed for the Anthony and Barry Awards. His book The Lock Artist is the winner of the 2011 Edgar Award for Best Novel. Hamilton currently works for IBM in upstate New York where he lives with his wife Julia and their two children.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I have immensely enjoyed reading each Alex McNight novel. But 'Night Work', what a disappointment especially after eagerly awaiting its release. Sterile primary characters plodding along in a novel that was about 100 pages too long. In my opinion,this effort makes for reading that's short on suspense, tedious and boring. Maybe it's time for Joe Trumbull to move to the Upper Peninsula.
Night Work holds nowhere near the appeal of the Alex McKnight series in both charachters and plot. The first part of the book gets a bit overbearing dealing with Joe Trumbel's problems handeling Laurel's death and clearly over does his worries and doubts about his first date since her death. although not being a fan of the sensless sport of boxing, I would think that ole' Joe is a bit of a wuss and definately needs some serious mental help. The end plot is a bit unusual and origonal but overall the book is, charachter wise and the droning on about Joe's mental state, a definate dissapointment. Steve Hamilton is certainly a better writer than shows in this novel.
Looks can be deceiving, and so can feelings. Joe Trumbull learned this lesson not just the hard way but in a way that was almost fatal. To date, life hasn't been good to him. He's a juvenile probation officer in Kingston, New York. Some of the kids are petty offenders, others could be classified as hard-boiled criminals. So, we'd assume Joe was a pretty savvy guy. Perhaps so, but his mind is also clouded by tragedy. It was two years ago that he was looking forward to marrying Laurel. Then, on the night of his bachelor party she was strangled. Since then Joe has turned inward, retreated, doing his job and working out at the gym. But now he thinks that just maybe he's ready to make a better kind of life for himself, so he goes out on a blind date. Surprisingly to him the evening went well. Shocking to him was the murder of his date later that same evening. As other women are killed, women who had some contact with Joe, the police zero in on him as suspect No. 1. It seems the only way he can clear himself is to find the psychotic killer who is intent upon destroying him. Edgar and Shamus winner Steve Hamilton has crafted a suspenseful tale, which is read by another winner - Dick Hill. Named a Golden Voice and a Voice of the Century by Audiophile magazine, Hill delivers one more stunning narration. - Gail Cooke
In Kingston, New York, juvenile probation officer Joe Trumbull has spent the past two years buried in his work while he grieves the strangulation murder of his fiancée Laurel three days before their wedding. Though he still mourns his loss and believes he will compare all women to Laurel, Joe finally goes out on a blind date with Marlene. A few hours after their date ends, Marlene is found strangled to death. Not long after that he tries to help battered wife Sandy, who soon after his offer of assistance is found strangled to death.------------------ The local police turn to the State for homicide detectives to investigate since the small department has no one capable of working a serial killer case. Joe being the obvious link between the murders is the prime and only suspect. He begins an investigation to find a killer before he is arrested.--------------------- This is an entertaining investigative thriller although fans of Steve Hamilton who know Alex McKnight will think Joe Trumbull is no Alex. The whodunit is cleverly developed especially the motive and the location on the Hudson is vividly described. However, Joe¿s constant self pity becomes irritating and after a while he loses the empathy he had early on. Still this is an interesting stand alone tale of a man who is trying to return to the living when all he finds are deaths.----------------- Harriet Klausner
All isn't explained real well as to why and how but the book kept me reading and was hard to put down. Creative plot, differenttype of who done it. I liked it.
Steve Hamilton is -- unfairly -- among the best-kept secrets in the wide world of crime writers, possibly because in his stand-alone books he requires readers with a higher IQ than those who inhale genre work in a single sitting and judge its worth on the basis of how many get killed per chapter, and did the hero or heroin get laid. That requirement for a fondness for plot and character development - versus police chases and gunfights - applies to "Night Work" just as it did to "The Lock Artist." I wonder how many of those reviewers who are knocking the book actually caught the almost subliminal key to Joe's relationship with Laurel? This book is a classic laying out of a devious plot to frame a somewhat clueless, decent guy for murders staged to placate a demented woman "of a certain age"? Or have I given away too much? By all means, do not be deterred by the negative reviews here. Being from Michigan, I have read all of the Alex McKnight novels set in the Upper Peninsula and give them five solid stars too, immensely entertaining, yet they are formulaic, genre pieces and cut from a different cloth than the likes of "Night Work." Get this book and enjoy it, and don't miss the more than casually revealing hint about Miss Laurel, and her actual relationship with poor, paranoid, clueless, beaten up Joe.
In his first standalone, following his wonderful Alex McKnight series, Steve Hamilton introduces Joe Trumbull, a probation officer in Kingston, New York, an upstate city in the Hudson Valley. He lives in an apartment above a converted bus station now serving as a gym, where he works out every day to try to keep in shape, at which he mostly succeeds. He describes his job as follows: “I’m part cop, part social worker, part guidance counselor, part rehab coordinator, part bounty hunter. Every hour of every day, I’m your official court-designated guardian angel. I can come to your house on a school-day morning and drag your ass out of bed, because going to school is an absolutely nonnegotiable part of your probation.” He sees himself as helping the kids with whom he works to make something good of their lives when those lives are at a critical juncture. Just as idealistic is the young woman to whom he is engaged: she works at a battered women’s shelter, and is passionate about her work, up until the day, three days before their wedding, when she is murdered. Her killer has never been caught. As the book opens, Joe has been at a sort of disconnect from the life around him, going into work on his day off, feeling “This was where I belonged, no doubt about it, reading over somebody’s PSI [presentence investigation] instead of being outside enjoying a perfect August day,” when he decides that “after two long years, it was time to start my life again,” and is about to embark on a blind date, his first date since the death of his fiancée, who he still refers to as ‘my Laurel.’ His date goes remarkably, and unexpectedly, well. And then the unthinkable happens, followed shortly by the unimaginable. At which point everything changes, and the book becomes impossible to put down. The suspense kept this reader glued to the page right up until the ending. My one complaint was that that ending was almost anticlimactic, and nearly fails to live up to what had preceded it. Which does not at all inhibit my recommendation of this terrific read. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Hamilton’s protagonist love of jazz, at one point describing a great saxophone solo “with the perfect smooth tone like the sound of your lover’s voice. It was impossible for someone to play that well, absolutely impossible, but that’s the thing about live jazz. When it comes together it sounds better than you ever could have expected. As good as anything you’ve ever heard.” In this, as well as in his fine writing, the author joins another wonderful contemporary mystery author, Michael Connelly—high praise indeed.