"I really like his main character, Alex McKnight, and I'm ready to revisit Paradise, Michigan."—James Patterson
New York Times Bestselling Author of Die a Stranger
Steve Hamilton's novels have won the mystery world's most prestigious awards. Now, in North of Nowhere, he returns to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where former Detroit cop Alex McKnight has learned that wherever money goes, envy isn't far behind.
After a game of cards turns into a professional heist, Alex McKnight finds himself lying facedown on the floor with a gun to the back of his head. When the dust settles, McKnight is one of the police chief's lead suspects. Worse, one of the other card players has the same idea, and he has no qualms about exercising some vigilante justice of his own. Now, Alex knows he is the only one who can uncover the truth. But he's about to discover how dark this conspiracy truly is—or how close to guilt he actually stands. . . .
About the Author
Steve Hamilton was born and raised in the Detroit area. He now lives in upstate New York with his wife and children. His first novel, A Cold Day in Paradise won the 1997 SMP/ PWA Award for Best First Private Eye Novel, the 1999 Edgar Award, and the Shamus Award.
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Day in Paradise, which won the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin's Press Award for Best First Mystery by an Unpublished Writer.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.
Read an Excerpt
North of Nowhere
An Alex McKnight Mystery
By Steve Hamilton
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2002 Steve Hamilton
All rights reserved.
That summer it was all about secrets.
It was the summer I turned forty-nine years old, which made me start thinking about fifty and what that would feel like. Fifty years with not a lot to show for them. One marriage that was so far in the past, it was like something you'd dig up out of the ground. My baseball career — four years of minor league ball and not a single day in the majors. And my career as a Detroit police officer, which ended one night with me on my back, watching my partner die next to me. That's what I saw when I looked back on my life.
On the plus side, I was getting a lot of reading done that summer. And, though I didn't know it yet, I was about to meet some interesting new people. I wouldn't get to see any fireworks on the Fourth of July, because I'd spend most of that evening lying facedown on a stranger's floor, a gun held to the side of my head. I would wait for one final blast, maybe one final blur of color. And then nothing.
I already had one bullet inside me. I knew I didn't have room for another one.
More than anything else, it was the summer in which I had to make a big decision. Was I going to rejoin the human race or was I going to keep drifting until I was too far away to ever come back? That's what the summer was really all about. That and the secrets.
Jonathan Connery, AKA Jackie, owner of the Glasgow Inn in Paradise, Michigan, raised in Scotland, alleged second-cousin to Sean Connery, and in his opinion anyway, just as good-looking — this is the man who took me to that house on that Fourth of July evening. The Glasgow Inn is just down the road from my cabins. I live in the first cabin, the one I helped my old man build back in the sixties and seventies. The other five I rent out. My customers are mostly hunters in the fall, snowmobilers in the winter. In the summer, they're families who want to do something a little different. They come up here from the Lower Peninsula to Paradise because it's the most out-of-the-way place you can go to without leaving the state — hell, without leaving the country. After driving forever on I-75, they think they're almost there when they cross the Mackinac Bridge. But it's another hour through the emptiest land they've ever seen until they finally get close to Lake Superior. Even then they still have to circle around Whitefish Bay, driving deep into the heart of the Hiawatha National Forest. By then, they're wondering to themselves how anyone could actually live up here, so far away from everything else in the world. When they finally hit the town, the sign says, "Welcome to Paradise! We're glad you made it!" They go through the one blinking light in the middle of town, keep going north along the shore a couple of miles, past Jackie's Glasgow Inn, until they get to my cabins. When I see their faces as they get out of the car, I know how it's going to be. If they look around like they just landed on the moon, they're in for a long week. There's not much to do up here, after you go to the Shipwreck Museum one day and then to the Taquemmenon Falls State Park the next. If they get out of the car, close their eyes, take a deep breath, and smile, I know they'll like it here. They'll probably come the year after, too. And the year after that.
Which is why I have mostly repeat customers now — people with standing reservations who come up here the same week, every year. In the summertime I don't have to do much for them. They don't use much firewood, maybe just a little when the winds off of the lake cool things down at night. They sure as hell don't need me to tell them what to do or where to go. They're just as happy to never see me.
I was spending a lot of time alone that summer. It's what I had to do. There was a time when a certain lawyer had talked me into becoming a private investigator. I tried it and got my ass kicked. Then I met a young Ojibwa woman and tried to help her out of a jam, and got my ass kicked even worse. I got my ass kicked in ways that nobody's ass has ever been kicked before. Then an old friend from my baseball days came back, thirty years after I had last seen him, and asked me to help him find somebody. I agreed to help him. You'd think I would have known what was about to happen. Although this time I got my head kicked along with my ass.
Enough of this, I said to myself. This I do not need. Ever again.
When the summer began, I was finding excuses not to go to Jackie's for lunch. Or for my afternoon beer, even though I knew he'd have a Canadian on ice for me. Or dinner. When I did stop in, he'd ask me where I'd been. I'd tell him I'd been busy, cleaning out the cabins, fixing things. He'd give his famous look, like he could see right through me.
By the end of June, I was spending most evenings in my cabin, reading the paper, and as many books as I could get my hands on. I had never read so many books in my life. Whatever the tiny Paradise library had, or the couple of gift shops that sold paperbacks — thrillers, mysteries, some of the classics even — that's what I read. The books I craved the most were true crime. You'd think that would've been the last thing I wanted to read, with eight years as a cop and a year or so of trying very hard not to be a private investigator, and with everything that had happened to me. But for some reason, true crime books were comforting to me. Maybe because I was reading about all these people getting their asses kicked and for once it wasn't me.
By the time the Fourth of July rolled around, I don't think I had even seen Jackie's face for a solid week. He knocked on the door. I opened it and saw him standing there. It would have been a surprise no matter what the circumstances, because he never came to my place. The Glasgow Inn had the television and the food and the Canadian beer. So there wasn't much reason for him to come my way.
"Jackie," I said. "What's going on?"
"Alex," he said. He stepped past me and looked around the place. I think Jackie was sixty-five that summer. Over the years, his face had felt a lot of cold wind off the lake. He had a certain sparkle in his eyes, though, that told you he could take whatever the lake gave him. When the snow melted, he'd be there smiling.
"Is everything okay?" I said.
"Everything's fine," he said. "Just dandy." He picked up the book on my kitchen table and turned it over to read the back.
I stood there watching him. I wasn't sure what to say.
"Okay," he said, putting the book down. "Here's the deal. I brought a tent with me. It's practically brand new, one of those space-age nylon things. Doesn't weigh more than thirty pounds, but it's plenty big and it keeps the wind and the rain out. It's beautiful. Along with that, I've got a good portable propane stove. A sleeping bag that'll keep you warm to forty below. A backpack. You know, the kind with the frame that keeps the weight on your hips instead of your shoulders. A lot of other little stuff. Water purification kit, first aid kit, some mosquito netting. Oh, and I almost forgot, a couple of great fishing rods. I mean the best."
"Why are you telling me this?" I said. "Where are you going?"
"I'm not going anywhere," he said. "You are."
"What are you talking about?"
"You'll need a good rifle," he said, "You'll have to get that yourself."
"I'll draw you a map of this place. It's up in the Yukon Territory. If you drive, it'll take you a hell of a long time to get up there. I hope your truck is up for it."
"If I were you, I'd sell the truck and fly up there. Tell you what, since I'm giving you all this equipment, just leave the truck with me. It's what, about twelve years old?"
"Jackie, will you kindly tell me what the hell you're talking about? Since when am I going to the Yukon Territory?"
"I'm just trying to help you out, Alex. I thought you'd appreciate it."
"By sending me to the Yukon? That's helping me?"
"Think of it, Alex. The guy who told me about this place, he says you could set up camp there. Fish the rivers for food, maybe shoot some small game once in a while. There's a little town a few miles away if you really need it, but aside from that, no human contact at all, Alex. You could go a whole year and never see another person's face."
"You're trying to be funny, right? This is a joke."
"I'll look after the cabins," he said. "I promise. Now get your stuff together."
"Okay, I get it," I said. "This is your cute little way of telling me I haven't been coming around much lately."
"Yeah, it's been killing me," he said. "Nobody to tell me I'm doing everything wrong. Nobody to make dinner for whenever he snaps his fingers. It's been a real nightmare."
"I was gonna stop by tonight," I said. "Really."
"The hell you were," he said. "Look at you. Look at this crap you're reading. 'A heart-stopping tale of murder and revenge.'" He picked up another book and then plunked it back down. "'A true story of deception and naked greed.' If this is what you'd rather do than come harass me all night, so be it. It doesn't bother me one bit, believe me. Not until everybody starts asking me questions. 'Where's Alex, Jackie?' 'How come Alex doesn't come in anymore?' 'What the hell's wrong with Alex, Jackie? I said hello to him at the post office and he walked right by me like he didn't know me.'"
"Who was that?" I said. "Who said hello at the post office?"
"It doesn't matter," he said. "You don't care. You don't need us anymore. Any of us. This is the goddamned loneliest town in the whole country, and you still have to hide in your cabin. So I figured, what the hell, there's only one thing to do with him. Send him north! Let him live with the bears!"
"Are you about done?"
"No, I'm not," he said. "I came here to give you an ultimatum. I'm not leaving until you choose. Either I take you to the airport and put your ass on a plane to Moosehide, or you come play poker with me tonight."
"Poker? Where, at the Glasgow?"
"No, in the Soo. At this guy's house. You haven't met him."
"Since when do you go out playing poker?" I said. "Who's gonna run the place?"
"We usually play at the bar," he said. "Not the old crowd you used to play with. This is a new thing. You'd know that if you ever came by. Win wants to show off his new poker table, so I figured I'd let my son look after things. It's called a night out, Alex. It's what sociable people do sometimes."
"Jackie, I really don't feel like playing poker with a bunch of guys I don't know."
"Too much of a strain, I understand. Okay, I'll help you get packed."
"Knock it off. I'm not going to, where you'd say? Moosehide? Is that really a town in the Yukon?"
"I told you, Alex. One or the other. I'm not leaving until you pick one."
"None of the above, Jackie. Thanks for the offer."
"You're gonna have to forcibly remove me," he said.
"Since when do you use words like 'forcibly'?"
"Poker or the Yukon, Alex. I'm waiting."
What else was I going to do? I sure as hell wasn't going to the Yukon, and I didn't feel like forcibly removing him. So I chose poker. It seemed like the easy way out.
Little did I know.
Jackie has a silver 1982 Lincoln Continental that he supposedly bought for three hundred dollars in 1990. Since then he claims to have put on another 200,000 miles on top of the original 150,000. But then Jackie has been known to exaggerate. No matter how much he had paid for it, and how many miles he had gotten out of it, somehow he kept driving it every year, even in the dead of winter when four-wheel-drive vehicles were sliding off the road all around him.
"I don't see any camping equipment," I said when I got in the passenger's side.
"It's all in the trunk," he said. "This thing has a huge trunk."
"Uh-huh. I'm sure that's where it is."
"I hope you brought some money," he said. "The stakes might be a little higher than what you're used to."
"This feels like a mistake already," I said. I watched the town roll by as we headed south down the main road, past the Glasgow Inn. It felt strange to be passing it without stopping. As we paused at the blinking yellow light, I looked at the new motel they had put up on that corner. The gas station was across the street, then another bar. There were two gift shops on the west side of the road, then another little motel. For a moment I wondered if maybe Jackie's Yukon idea wasn't so bad after all. If Paradise, Michigan was starting to look too busy for me, maybe it was time to head into the woods.
A half-mile south of town, we crossed over a thin, curving strip of land that separated the lake on one side from a pond on the right. It always made me feel like I was driving on a tightrope when I came this way myself. Jackie kept one hand on the wheel and kept his speed up all the way around the bend. Never mind that one false move and we'd slide right into Lake Superior.
The sun was just beginning to set when we hit Lakeshore Drive. It's a twenty mile stretch along the southern rim of Whitefish Bay, maybe the emptiest road I've ever been on. In the wintertime you'd be a fool to try it, but on a summer evening it was the only way to go.
We drove in silence for a while. "You really missed me, didn't you," I finally said.
"If you want to live like a hermit, that's your business," he said.
"Admit it. You missed me."
"Get over yourself, Alex." If Jackie had stayed in Scotland, he might have ended up one of those old caddies who carry bags all day and then head to the local pub. Instead he came here to the Upper Peninsula and eventually opened up his own pub, complete with the overstuffed chairs and the fireplace. He had been here over fifty years, and yet you could still hear the hint of a Scottish burr in his voice. On the rare occasions when he talked about his childhood in Glasgow, that old burr seemed to grow even stronger.
"Reason I asked you," he said, "was because we needed another player. Swanson couldn't make it, which would have left us with five. You know how much I hate poker with five players."
"Yeah," I said. "You can't play high-low or all those other horseshit games you like to call."
He just shook his head at that one.
"Swanson," I said. "Do I know him?"
"You've seen him around," he said. "He's a lawyer in the Soo."
"A lawyer," I said. "My favorite."
"He's not so bad," Jackie said. "Just because he's a lawyer ..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
"There are good lawyers in the world."
"Yeah, three of them at last count."
The road was deserted, as always. We wouldn't see a single car until we got to Brimley. There was nothing but pine trees all around us. And the lake. There's always a wind of some sort coming off the lake, but tonight it was almost calm.
"Where are we playing again?"
"Win Vargas's," he said. "I don't think you've met him. You'd remember if you had."
"Uh-oh. This doesn't sound promising."
"He's good for a few laughs," he said. "Among other things."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You'll see," he said. "I just hope you don't mind expensive whiskey and cigars. I may have mentioned your little obsession with Canadian beer, too. I wouldn't be surprised if he had a case waiting for you. If he does, remember to make a big deal about it. He likes to impress people."
He kept driving. The sun went down. We finally came to an intersection, and there in the shadows of the pine trees sat an abandoned railroad car from the Soo Line. It was an old passenger car, half the windows covered with wood, the other windows dark with grime. A sign taped to the door read "No Trespassing!"
We passed the lighthouse at Iroquois Point, and then we hit the northern edge of the Bay Mills Reservation. We drove by the community college, then the little Kings Club, the casino that started it all, and then the much bigger Bay Mills Casino. Just past that was the new golf course. It looked almost finished now. From the road we could see a half-dozen bulldozers and excavators, sitting motionless in the dying light, their work done for the day.
"They're really tearing up the pea patch here," Jackie said. "It seems like they just started this thing last week."
"What are they calling this thing again?"
"Wild Bluff," he said. "What do you think?"
"I don't know," I said. "You'd think they'd come up with an Ojibwa name at least."
We crossed the bridge over the Waishkey River. We were on Six Mile Road now, heading due east toward Sault Ste. Marie. But just as we passed the entrance to the Brimley State Park, Jackie hung a left onto an unmarked dirt road.
Excerpted from North of Nowhere by Steve Hamilton. Copyright © 2002 Steve Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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