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Originally published Saturday, July 2, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Book review

Steve Hamilton's 'Misery Bay:' mysterious deaths on Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Steve Hamilton's masterful mystery "Misery Bay" is set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where former Detroit cop Alex McKnight is drawn into investigating a string of suicides that may not be what they seem.

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'Misery Bay'

by Steve Hamilton

St. Martin's Minotaur, 294 pp., $24.99

In hands less skilled, this story may not have worked. "Misery Bay" has a high body count and an unlikely alliance between two men accustomed to despising each other. But Hamilton pulls it off, reviving his Alex McKnight series after a five-year hiatus.

As a writer, Hamilton apparently enjoys a challenge. Last year, with "The Lock Artist," he produced a first-person account of a young man who cannot speak. Then, to complicate matters, he jumped around in time and place, doing an intricate weave. The result was a work of literature so fresh and compelling that Hamilton became only the second author in the 66-year history of the Edgar Awards to win best novel after having previously won best first novel. (The other writer to do this was Ross Thomas.)

So what's the challenge with "Misery Bay?" Hamilton puts McKnight, a former Detroit cop, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a cold and lonely land that could hardly be further from the colorful settings so common to the mystery genre. Forget Florida or Southern California or New Orleans or the big gritty city. The dominant feature in the UP is the snow.

In "Misery Bay," a local police chief — a longtime nemesis of McKnight's — pulls him into investigating what appears to be a string of suicides. Together, the two discover a haunting pattern that portends danger for police officers and their families in the Upper Peninsula and beyond.

This story hums. There's enough background to bring series' newcomers up to speed without slowing the tale. And while readers unfamiliar with Hamilton might want to try "The Lock Artist" first, "Misery Bay" displays the same sense of style.

Hamilton's prose is straight and clean, as devoid of pretense as the author's name — Steve, just Steve, with no accompanying initials. The book's complexity comes in Hamilton's gift for layers and the slow reveal.

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