Steve Hamilton has taken a break from his Alex McKnight series to pen a stand-alone thriller. NIGHT WORK introduces Joe Trumbull, an interesting, mildly quirky protagonist who maybe is just a little off-putting. Trumbull is a Kingston, New York juvenile probation officer by day and a boxing trainer by night, though he doesn’t fight professionally; he merely uses the training as a conditioner. Trumbull is a jazz aficionado (Hamilton, by the way, has excellent and eclectic musical taste, if Trumbull’s CD collection is any indication). Until recently, Trumbull’s life had gone off the rails, as the result two years earlier of the brutal, still-unsolved murder of Laurel Harrington, his fiancee.
NIGHT WORK begins with Trumbull going out on a blind date, his first since that tragedy. The woman is named Marlene Frost, and, as we see her through Trumbull’s eyes, she is every guy’s dream, helping him through the awkward moments, making the good times better and ultimately making his evening memorable beyond any reasonable expectation. Oh, and Frost is also heartbreakingly beautiful. Trumbull feels as if his life is beginning anew, and it’s all because of her.
Unfortunately, Trumbull is wrong. Before 24 hours have passed, his life will become a nightmare unlike any he has ever experienced, even when Laurel died. For the simple truth is that either someone, somewhere, has a grudge against Trumbull for reasons he cannot even begin to guess at, or he is a very sick and dangerous man.
There is a genuine mystery here, and I was back and forth throughout the book as to who was doing what and to whom. Sometimes with a mystery you can figure things out from the beginning and enjoy the manner in which the author takes you down the road to your destination. Nothing wrong with that, but Hamilton does not take that approach here. There is a better than even chance that things are exactly as they seem, and you’re well within spitting distance of the conclusion before Hamilton lets you in on what is going on.
Those who are disappointed that NIGHT WORK is not a McKnight novel should not pass this one up. All of the reasons for reading the McKnight series are in this book, but for one. Hamilton, who could make a shopping list interesting and readable, scores again, even with the different scenery.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 13, 2011