Ice Run by Steve Hamilton

Let’s say that you enjoy literary novels but disdain thrillers. Or, you’re the kind of reader who fidgets around page one hundred of a book you believe you should want to read. You want to finish that big book; it’s a kind of talisman.

Yeah, I was speeding officer, but I read The Corrections. Well, some of it. Just the good bits during a pause in round 127 of the NFL draft.

Then you have Steve Hamilton who writes extremely well while telling a story about characters you care about. His latest is ICE RUN, part of his Alex McKnight series.

Although the novel picks up where BLOOD IS THE SKY left off, it’s not a sequel. Alex is dating Natalie Reynaud of the Ontario Provincial Police; we met Natalie in the previous novel. She’s on leave, recovering from events both tragic and deeply personal.

Alex and Natalie are star crossed lovers. It’s not easy for either of them and the weather isn’t helping; climate and setting are crucial elements in the story. Alex lives in a cabin near the hamlet of Paradise in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; Natalie lives across the border in Blind River, Ontario.

When they meet at the Ojibway Hotel, Alex encounters a mysterious old man. Leaving his hat behind the old man strolls to his death; he’s found frozen the next morning by the local cops.

Alex begins to poke around the unfriendly precincts of Soo, Michigan (Sault St. Marie if you are in the station wagon with a Rand McNally.) Alex pokes and Soo pokes back, putting him in the hospital. Natalie tracks him down in his cabin, they head north of the border to stay at her house.

Natalie’s personal history is explored through a series of old photographs; her childhood was a travesty of bad luck, her father’s murder, and worse luck, her step-father, Albert. Her mother’s poor choices seem the inevitable outcome of copious amounts of alcohol. Dysfunction doesn’t cover the waterfront.

Natalie begins to explore the connections between past and present. Like the old man with the hat, her father was murdered years earlier outside the Ojibway Hotel in Soo, Michigan.

ICE RUN examines the dark terrain of family secrets; those secrets migrate across the generations, and for Alex and Natalie become a very grim here and now. The border between Canada and Michigan is easily crossed, the characters make the trip frequently. That imaginary line has a long history and this novel explores that history in a vivid and unusual way.

Steve Hamilton takes you into the fabric of the hardscrabble towns on both sides of the St. Mary’s River; winter is relentless, the landscape bleak and unyielding. From Paradise to Blind River, each character has to find some truth in the stories passed down.

The climactic scenes occur on Mackinac Island in the dead of winter. ICE RUN finishes with the promise of the opening fulfilled. The style is deceptively simple; Alex puts one foot in front of the other, not so easy when there’s two feet of snow on the ground.

Take a trip to Paradise. Have some beef stew at the Glasgow Inn. Make a friend like Vinnie. You could do a lot worse.