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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Winter of the Wolf Moon is Steve Hamilton's satisfying follow-up to last year's triumph, A Cold Day In Paradise, his highly praised, Edgar Award-winning debut. Return to Michigan's arctic Upper Peninsula as reluctant private investigator Alex McKnight desperately searches for a missing Native American woman, a suitcase loaded with something that's valuable to someone, and a hockey-playing goon who may (or may not) hold the key to the bloody trail that seems to be inching closer and closer to McKnight and his "partner" Purdell. This is gripping, clever, beautifully rendered entertainment. McKnight is, in this editor's opinion, one of the coolest American P. I.'s (probably because he doesn't want to be one at all) since Parker's Spenser started cracking clues back in the early '70s. Simply a joy to read.
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Not long after winning the 1999 Edgar Award for his debut novel, A Cold Day in Paradise, Steve Hamilton returns with an assured, compelling second novel that lends some credence to the publisher's claim that Hamilton will become "the next big thing in Mystery." The new book, evocatively entitled Winter of the Wolf Moon, is set once again in Paradise, a small town in the arctic Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and marks the return of that world-weary, middle-aged, reluctant private investigator, Alex McKnight.
As Winter of the Wolf Moon opens, Alex, a former minor league baseball player, has foolishly agreed to fill in as goalie for the Red Sky Rangers, a 30-and-over "slow puck" hockey team captained by his close friend Vinnie LeBlanc and composed, largely, of Native American residents of the local Ojibwa reservation. Alex anticipates, quite correctly, that an hour of ice hockey will lead to a morning of bruises, aches, and overextended muscles. Unfortunately, it also leads to his direct involvement in a complex series of crimes concerning a missing Ojibwa woman, a drug-addled hockey player, a pair of overzealous DEA operatives, a Russian crimelord, and a missing suitcase filled with stolen drugs. Some days, nothing goes as planned.
It all begins with Alex's on-the-ice encounter with Lonnie Bruckman, whose normally combative style of play is exacerbated by the drugs he has obviously ingested. Later, following a postgame confrontation that quickly turns violent, Alex has a very different sort of encounter with Bruckman's girlfriend, Dorothy Parrish, a young Ojibwa woman who has recently returned to Paradise, her childhood home town. Desperate and obviously frightened, she turns to Alex for sanctuary, for protection from unspecified hazards. Alex, who naturally believes that Lonnie Bruckman is at the root of her troubles, agrees to help and allows her to hide out in an isolated cabin that his father built when Alex was a boy. From this point on, everything that can go wrong does.
The next morning, Dorothy goes missing. The cabin that she slept in has been virtually destroyed. Also missing is a white canvas bag that -- as Alex eventually learns -- contains a large quantity of a particularly nasty street drug called "wildcat." The bag has been stolen from an émigré Russian hoodlum named Molinov, and he wants it back. The search for Dorothy, and for the stolen cache of wildcat, dominates the remainder of the novel. As Alex follows Dorothy's trail -- and is followed in turn by a number of interested parties on both sides of the law -- Winter of the Wolf Moon grows darker and more violent. By the time the mystery of Dorothy's disappearance is finally resolved, Alex has been subjected to an extended series of physical and emotional traumas that will leave him subtly, but permanently, altered.
Winter of the Wolf Moon works quite well as a traditional thriller, but its real strengths lie in Hamilton's highly developed sense of place and in his ability to populate his fictional locale with a credible gallery of characters. Hamilton evokes the harsh, isolated environment of the Upper Peninsula with care and narrative economy. The insular world of Paradise, Michigan -- with its bars and casinos, its snowmobiling tourists, its occasionally uneasy mixture of white and Ojibwa cultures -- comes to vivid and immediate life. Hamilton does a particularly good job of evoking the omnipresent power of the natural world. Weather, in particular, is a palpable element throughout this novel, a potent force that dominates the story's background, influencing the lives of the characters and their community at every turn.
But the real heart of Winter of the Wolf Moon is its stubborn, solitary narrator/hero, the appropriately named Alex McKnight. The McKnight of this novel is 48 years old, an over-the-hill ballplayer and former policeman who has become increasingly disconnected from the human mainstream. His obsessive search for the missing Dorothy Parrish becomes, in effect, a knightly quest, and provides Alex with a sense of purpose that has been missing from his life for too many years. At bottom, Winter of the Wolf Moon is a novel of redemption and spiritual rebirth masquerading as a novel of mystery and suspense. It is engaging, readable, and, in the end, surprisingly affecting, and it reinforces the notion that Steve Hamilton is -- or could become -- a significant new figure in American popular fiction.