HFC gets a shout-out in New York Times best-selling author’s latest book
Photo: Author and Michigan native Steve Hamilton
Eagle-eyed readers noticed that HFC was mentioned in Dead Man Running, the latest novel by New York Times best-selling author and Michigan native Steve Hamilton.
Dead Man Running is the 11th novel featuring Alex McKnight, Hamilton’s ever-popular protagonist. It is also the first McKnight novel in five years as the author has worked on other projects. Through the hiatus, fans would email him, demanding he bring back Alex.
“Oh, yeah, I hear from people all the time – ‘When’s Alex’s coming back?’ I’m glad that now I have a good answer.” said Hamilton, of upstate New York, a University of Michigan alumnus, who is a two-time Edgar Award winner. He has either won or been nominated for such prestigious literary awards as the Private Eye Writers of America's Shamus Award, the Anthony, the Barry, the Gumshoe, the Hammett Prize, and both the British Crime Writers' Association's Gold and Steel Daggers.
The fictional Alex McKnight played baseball for HFC
Bringing back Alex – who debuted in 1998’s A Cold Day in Paradise – meant Hamilton had to reintroduce him after a half-decade hiatus. Alex is a former minor league baseball player and a former Detroit police officer. After getting shot in the line of duty, his wife leaves him and he becomes a private investigator in the town of Paradise, in Michigan's upper peninsula.
On page 149 of Dead Man Running, it’s revealed that Alex played baseball for HFC. “My official portrait from the Henry Ford College yearbook,” the single sentence reads. While Hamilton himself has no ties to HFC, he does have Dearborn ties, having attended Howe Elementary School before his family moved to White Lake.
Dead Man Running (Don't worry, no spoilers)
In Dead Man Running, the FBI captures serial killer Martin T. Livermore, who had sadistically tortured and murdered five women. He informs the FBI that a sixth woman is alive in a remote desert canyon in Arizona, and agrees to lead them to her.
The catch? They must bring along Alex.
Strangely, Alex doesn’t know Livermore. He never encountered him during his days as a cop or a P.I. In fact, he’s never seen Livermore in his life, so he doesn’t understand why the cunning psychopath has adopted him as his arch-nemesis.
More people are killed along the way in the ensuing deadly game of cat of mouse that Livermore forces Alex to play, taunting him about a past connection that binds them together.
“Alex has no idea who this guy is and how he can have any connection to him – that’s the absolute mystery,” said Hamilton. “In some of the books he will travel and leave the UP, but he usually knows why he’s doing it; it’s very specific. With this book, there’s a reason he's leaving the UP, but he doesn’t know what it is. That’s how I got the idea of the absolute, most evil character he’s ever come up against. He’s really in a different world. A desert canyon in Arizona is about as far away from the UP in the middle of winter as you can get.”
Dead Man Running is told from the first-person perspective of Alex and the third-person perspective of Livermore. This is the first McKnight book where there’s another point of view character.
“It was not easy to be in (Livermore’s) head in this book; there are just some characters you don’t want to spend time with. For this to be a balanced book, sometimes you have to see things from that twisted, upside-down point of view. When you create a character like this, there’s a logic and a reason for everything. He’s still driven by basic human needs and emotions, but you turn them upside-down a little bit. There’s something deeply wrong with this guy, but on a certain level, we can understand what he’s doing,” explained Hamilton.
The reason for the 5-year gap
Hamilton – who also writes the critically acclaimed Nick Mason series – talked about why there was a 5-year gap between novels.
“It’s funny that a fictional character needed a break. I felt that way before. I needed a break, so I wrote The Lock Artist,” said Hamilton. “I came back to Alex because I needed to know what he was up to next. I’ve always felt that way because no matter what I did, this character was there with me from the beginning – this was the first book, the first character. Even now after I took some time away to write the Nick Mason series, I knew I’d go back at some point. I decided now is the time. Now I can take a look and see how’s doing. It always feels really good to come back. This is sort of an old friend and a place that I know. It all starts in Paradise, a town I know well.”
Hamilton does have tentative plans for Alex McKnight and Nick Mason to possibly meet at some point. He compared and contrasted his two creations.
“Nick is younger, stronger, harder, and obviously has a whole different background. He’s been in prison, he’s been a professional criminal. They have one interesting thing in common: both are loyal to the people closest to them and would do anything for them. Even though Alex’s not the guy Nick is, you should never underestimate him. He never gives up. Knock him down 1,000 times and he’ll get right back up.”
Hollywood comes calling
Both his Nick Mason and Alex McKnight books have been optioned by Hollywood. Nick Mason is in the works to be adapted into a movie by Lion’s Gate. It’s in the beginning stages and Hamilton wouldn’t comment further. A TV series featuring Alex McKnight is also in the works. Writer Shane Salerno – who has collaborated with renowned movie directors James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Oliver Stone, and Ron Howard – is attached to this project.
“I’ve said 'no' many times to people who’ve wanted to adapt Alex, because I knew they wouldn’t do it right,” said Hamilton. “It wouldn’t be true to Alex and they probably wouldn’t set it in Michigan or film it in Detroit or the UP. It didn’t feel right to consider letting Alex be taken over by someone who didn’t get him and didn’t get Michigan. But now, it seems like there are some people who get it.”
Hamilton will be an associate producer for the TV series. “I’m not sure what that means,” he said, laughing. “But I’m definitely involved and will always be involved with the character of Alex.”
Asked who he has in mind to play his popular character, Hamilton doesn’t know.
“I should be ready with that answer. When I think about it, I see someone who plays baseball – Bill Freehan was a catcher for the (Detroit) Tigers when I was a kid. I see a little bit of my father who actually looked like James Garner. It has to be somebody who has a solid quality to him -- a guy you can depend on.”
Dead Man Running is available wherever books are sold. Learn more about Hamilton at www.authorstevehamilton.com.