Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Book Review: Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton (Van Shaw #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Strong characters, engaging plot
Cons: Flashbacks, slow pacing early on
The Bottom Line:
Ranger returns home
Finds himself in mystery
Slowly builds suspense

Captivating Debut

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Glen Erik Hamilton at several local book events over the last couple of years.  He’s a very friendly guy, and that coupled with raves about his books made me buy his first book, Past Crimes.  Like many books I buy fully intending to read, it sat while I waited to find time in my schedule to read it.  I finally hit upon the idea of getting it from the library on audio, and I’m glad I did.

Army ranger Van Shaw hasn’t been home in ten years, and he has no intension of going home.  He was raised by his grandfather, Donovan, to be a thief, and Van has completely turned his back on that life and all it means.  Not to mention that he and his grandfather parted under less than ideal circumstances.  But when he receives a note from his grandfather asking if he’d come home, he heads back to Seattle.

When Van arrives in the early morning hours, he finds Donovan lying on the floor bleeding from a very recent gunshot wound.  Van hasn’t had any contact with his grandfather, but he is sure that his grandfather has continued his life of crime.  Van suspects that someone Donovan knows shot him, and Van knows he will be the best person to investigate and figure out what happened.  Was it a past crime that caught up with Donovan?  Or was a more recent caper the motive for the crime?

Before we got any further, let me be clear – this is not one of my normal light cozies.  This is a serious book with dark twists and turns.  That also means it has more violence, sex, and language than the books I typically read.  I found that the violence and sex was still subdued.  Oh, it was there, but it served the story and never got too explicit.  Honestly, the language felt over the top and excessive, however.  But I know that is part of the hard-boiled genre.

The story was good.  I will admit, it took a bit to hook me since it takes some time introducing us to the characters.  But once it truly got going, it was quite a ride.  I was on the edge of my seat listening to the final third of the book, the suspense was that good with a fantastic action sequence.  There are plenty of twists as well, so the set up was well worth it.

One thing that did slow things down was flashbacks to when Van was growing up with Donovan.  Honestly, I could have done without most of these.  Yes, they helped establish character and especially Van and Donovan’s relationship, but they also slowed down the present-day story.  Or maybe I’m getting very tired of the flashback technique since it’s been overused on several TV shows I’ve watched over the last decade.

The characters really are good.  I normally don’t like rooting for criminals, but these characters are so well developed you can’t help but care.  Of course, it helps that Van is trying to live on the correct side of the law, so I had no qualms rooting for him.  Even so, his old friends and Donovan’s friends all come across as real.  And everyone is upset by Donovan’s shooting, which helps make the criminal characters more human.

Normally, I don’t adjust my star rating for the audio version.  While I will talk about it in my review, I want my review, and especially the rating, to reflect the book itself and not the audio version since the author has no control over that.  However, if I did, I’d be taking off at least one more star for the audio version.  Jeff Harding is the narrator, and he does a very poor job.   Most of his voices sound cartoony, and it’s really hard to listen to them.  I thought I’d adjust as the book went along, but that never happened.  Fortunately, this is the only book in the series he has narrated, and I’ve heard the second narrator is very good.  I hope that is true since I do plan to continue on with the series.

Van’s debut may be darker than I normally read, but it is good.  Past Crimes will slowly draw you in until you can’t put the book down while you race for the end.

Once you've met Van, you'll want to read the rest of the Van Shaw Mysteries.

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