Die a Stranger
Steve Hamilton
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Buy *Die a Stranger (An Alex McKnight Novel)* by Steve Hamilton online

Die a Stranger (An Alex McKnight Novel)
Steve Hamilton
Minotaur Books
288 pages
July 2012
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Hamilton hits one out of the park in his slow-burning, deliberative tale of a man determined to locate a friend in trouble. In Northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Alex McKnight lives a simple, quiet life, his only neighbor Ojibwa Indian Vinnie LeBlanc. When Vinnie disappears after his mother’s death and a week of services on the nearby Ojibwa Indian Reservation, Alex begins to suspect the worst, especially after law enforcement discovers an ugly scene at a local airstrip, where five bodies are found. Drug traffickers have been using such remote places for quick-drop exchanges, planes touching down, relieved of cargo and taking off in a matter of minutes.

Blending the personal attachment of McKnight’s friendship with Vinnie LeBlanc, who has broken tradition by moving off the reservation to live in a cabin near Alex’s rental units, and the unfolding dynamics of a drug takeover, Hamilton injects his drama with character exploration that adds texture to the novel. His style delivers more than just the excitement of the chase, motive and causation as important as the escalating action. Alex struggles with his place as Vinnie’s friend, never accepted on the reservation but stubbornly loyal: he knows LeBlanc would be if their roles were reversed.

A Scottish bartender serves as an emotional anchor for Alex, as much as the unexpected assistance of Vinnie’s long-absent ex-con father, Lou, adds a deeper appreciation for the difficulties of life on the reservation before and after the financial boon of on-site casinos. From the Ojibwa Reservation to a foray into the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Reservation further north, the wilderness landscape is the setting for the chilling violence of drug commerce.

Stripping the narrative of superfluous characters, Hamilton keeps his protagonist free of anything more than his deep affection for LeBlanc and his grim determination to push through physical discomfort until his friend is recovered. Unwilling to wait for the slow process of law enforcement agencies and using only the barest of clues, Alex assembles a vague plan that moves into gear with the arrival of Vinnie’s estranged father, a man expelled from the reservation years before. Lou LeBlanc, an older, weathered version of his son, has no illusions about his welcome but is critical to McKnight’s endeavor to track Vinnie’s whereabouts.

From a sly hippie couple running a small-time operation of hydroponic marijuana to local dealers and a Chicago tough guy who uses over-the-top graphic carnage as his signature, McKnight is out of his element. Lou, however, is well-versed in extreme circumstances. The pair forge a unique bond with LeBlanc at its core, the loyal friend and the reprobate father unstoppable. As Vinnie’s chances grow slim, the tentacles of the Chicago thug reach to an elite island enclave and back to McKnight’s home turf as family history, old debts and loyalty drive two men on a mission. The sense of menace is low-key but pervasive until a confrontation, catastrophe barely averted as corruption and graft slide from sight beneath nature’s pristine landscape.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2012

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