When asked to give an example of Midwestern virtues, author Steve Hamilton, a native of Michigan, says, "Midwesterners work hard for everything they get and never act like they're special, even if they are." He could be talking about Alex McKnight, the protagonist of his internationally best-selling novels set in Paradise, Michigan.
As I read his books, more and more questions about the stories and the man who wrote them popped into my mind with every page I turned.
Then I got the opportunity to write about him and the first thing I learned was how gracious he is. He took the time to talk to me, a college junior, and answer my questions, which had surely been asked of him a hundred times before by people with a lot more experience than I have! I am very grateful.
Alex McKnight, a medically retired Detroit police officer, is a bit rough around the edges, living in the Upper Peninsula in a hunting camp in the back of beyond. He leads a simple life and approaches each day with the best intentions. However, in a place where most would assume nothing ever happens, McKnight finds himself at the center of all kinds of trouble.
He makes his living maintaining the rental cabins built by his late father, hardly your typical private investigator. "The ultimate Midwestern character is someone who quietly performs two or three miracles every day," says Hamilton, and that is an apt description of Alex McKnight.
The ten books in the series have won numerous awards, as have Steve Hamilton's two stand-alone novels and his three short stories. While the McKnight series is set in the Midwest, his stand-alone novels, in sharp contrast, range to New York and the west coast. I was interested in how the settings - the different atmospheres of each - advanced or impeded the creation of the narratives of the stories.
According to Hamilton, "Either the story works or it doesn't, no matter what. The challenge was not translating Midwestern characters into an east or west coast setting; the challenge was writing a great crime novel, which so often comes from an urban environment, and setting it in a lonely Midwest atmosphere."
A recipient of the Michigan Author Award, the Private Eye Writers of America/ St. Martin's Press Award, the MWA Edgar Award, and the PWA Shamus Award to name just of few of his awards, Steve Hamilton is no stranger to acclaim for his outstanding body of work. He has proven time and time again that his ability to draw from both Midwestern and east coast influences strikes a cord with readers and book-lovers everywhere.
It's very obvious that Hamilton writes for his audience; his characters come from every day life and his stories acquaint us with environments different from our own.
"I will never make people into cartoons, no matter where they're from," he says. This is another reason he connects so well with his readers.
An interview with such an important name in the world of crime writing is an opportunity that does not come along every day. So, for book-lovers everywhere (and for me, too) I had to ask him what he thinks constitutes a good crime novel.
"A good crime novel, as we understand it right now," he said, "can be about anything, because at its best, it's all about making sense out of chaos, and about standing up for what's right. We need that now more than ever."
When asked how he would like to affect his readers, his answer was simple, "I want them to stay up way too late because they have to finish the book. That's all I ever wanted."
It was an honor for me to interview Steve Hamilton, and it's an honor to welcome him as Guest of Honor to Magna cum Murder XIX!
(Brooke Nicoletti is a Magna cum Murder intern. She is a junior at Ball State majoring in Public Relations.)