My first Steve Hamilton, and it won’t be my last.
While reading this novel, I started thinking about literary devices, namely telling a story backwards: telling me who the culprit was but not who was killed and why, jumping back and forth, and then slowly explaining the details.
What draw me in in the first place was not the protagonist, but the novel’s structure. Hamilton divided the narrative into chunks apparently without taking notice of events, but with an eye to narrative tension and dramatic effect. Off the top of my head I can't think of many other crime novels organized in this way. Nevertheless various narrative threads in this novel are pitch perfect, as well as being able to deepen the connection between structure, protagonist and subject matter (hopping between three timelines: present day, where Michael is reaching the end of his jail time, the series of events that led him to learn how to unlock a safe and his brief history as a professional safe cracker).
Another clever literary device was the way Hamilton captured me by using Michael’s narrative voice. It’s quite unique, because it allowed me to be drawn into the story and made me want to keep reading to discover what happened to cause him to stop speaking.
The novel’s denouement, all by itself, justifies reading it. It was masterfully done. Hamilton was able to put us in Michael’s shoes when it was finally revealed what had happened so many years before. I found it as cathartic as Michael did. What more can one ask for in a novel?
Where does the Noir come in? Hamilton refused to sentimentalize and trivialize Michael’s character, even if, at the end, there exists a small ray of light entering his noirish existence. No matter. It’s still one hell of a book.
Reading this novel, turned out one of the most pleasant reading experiences in months. And perhaps it might be necessary to explain 'pleasant' here: the word does not necessarily mean that one is comforted, has fun in the usual meaning. Book-wise it means, at its best, to be challenged. That’s what the best literature does, be it SF, Crime Fiction, or what-have-you.