Alex McKnight is minding his own business, remodeling the largest of the cabins he rents for a living in Paradise, Michigan, his stint in law enforcement long past, a PI license moldering in a drawer. Alex is avoiding a return to the cabin he lived in until a violent encounter that ended with him shot and his plans for the future permanently derailed. When his nemesis, Chief Roy Maven of Sault Ste. Marie, strides into Alex’s local watering hole to ask a favor, McKnight is hardly inclined to grant the truculent man any favors. But Maven is persuasive - in his way - requesting that Alex resurrect that PI license to ask a few questions about the recent suicide of a retired US Marshal’s son. The young man’s body was found hanging from a tree limb, blind eyes facing an indifferent Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Misery Bay.
The father is inconsolable and Maven desperate to offer some relief to his friend. McKnight eventually agrees to interview the boy’s college roommates and give the grieving father some small measure of comfort, having done all he could on his son’s behalf, but suicide leaves a particular residue of its own - an uneasy emotional wasteland where answers are nonexistent. Alex’s inquiries fall on deaf ears, however, the paucity of answers supplied by fellow students of little use to a man whose throat has been slashed. Now it is Maven who is inconsolable - and angry. Maven feels impotent, outranked by the FBI agents who descend on Sault Ste. Marie, these same agents excluding Alex from taking part in the investigation with his paltry license.
The FBI quickly supplies a reasonable resolution, a high-profile case that might have stirred up some animosity for the US Marshal, but of course it isn’t that simple. Once the feds have left the state, Maven and McKnight uncover another youngster’s unexpected suicide and the violent death of another retired cop. There’s more here to be discovered, but the facts are fragmented, connections between victims nonexistent. Building a suspenseful thriller from the image of a young man hanging from a tree limb in Misery Bay to the natural enmity between two men who seriously don’t like one another, the snow-bound terrain of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the perfect setting for a bizarre tale of murder and mayhem that shakes Maven and McKnight to the very souls, forcing the pair into an odd but appealing partnership: “I sat there next to him… while the madness went on all around us.”
Running on cop intuition, the men join forces, coming upon one gruesome tragedy after another and refusing to be deterred by the dictates of the FBI or the frail links they gradually piece together to form an ugly scenario that promises more violence if the killer cannot be stopped. Hamilton is in top form, his story taut and well-plotted for maximum effect, a compulsive page-turner that doesn’t supply any easy answers but plenty of suspicions. From Paradise to Misery Bay, Hamilton runs the scale of emotions and outrageous crimes in a dead heat with a vicious killer.