by Steve Hamilton
Cover Artist: Photo: Paul Gooney / Arcangel Images
Review by Ernest Lilley
Minotaur Books Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250054616
Date: 18 November 2014 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Joe Trumbull is a probation officer in Kingston, NY, halfway up the Hudson River Valley. He spends his days trying to keep kids from going from bad to worse, his nights working out in the gym below his apartment, the times he can't unwind listening to furious jazz and wishing he could play the sax he bought...and every waking moment trying to forget his fiancée's murder three days before they were about to get married...two years ago. In Steven Hamilton's first standalone novel, set in his home county of Ulster, NY, Joe is about to discover that time doesn't heal all wounds. Some it takes pride in ripping open again and again...
Joe Trumbull was supposed to get married two years before the story opens, but someone killed his fiancée days before the wedding, and Joe's been slowly making his way back towards the land of the living in the wake of that tragedy. When we meet him he's cautiously dipping his toe into the waters of dating, terrified as only a man who's been out of that scene and dealing with tragic loss can be.
What he doesn't know is that things are about to get worse. Much worse.
Joe's best friend is a detective in the local police department, which is a good thing, because he's about to find himself embroiled in a string of murders that point unerringly to him as a suspect.
Night Work shows the author at the top of his form, connecting us with a new cast of characters that have an immediate feel of realness, a history depth that stretches backward off the page into the past and the region that created them. His protagonist is a probation officer in Kingston, NY, about and hour and a half up the NY State Thruway from NYC and in the heart of the Hudson River Valley. The Hudson Valley is an odd mix of rural and urban, cold and desolate in the winter and paralyzed by heat in the summer. The small cities have lots of kids with no future in scaled down urban grime with the countryside lurking just outside city limits peopled by folks hanging on from more prosperous times or escaping from the congested regions south of them. It's got an edgy feeling to it that you recognize if you've ever lived there, and it's clear that Steve Hamilton is writing from first hand knowledge.
Hamilton says he wanted to write a story about his home county of Ulster, NY and that he's always wanted to write a story about probation officers, "your last best friend" before the criminal justice system drags you under. Trumbull lives in a converted bus station that houses a gym, and Hamilton does an excellent job of building the character of his loner protagonist, a guy who boxes to keep in shape, is devoted to jazz, and who once believed that he could turn any kid around if he could just get to them at the right time.
The downside of this depiction is that the character is too far out there on his own to be really effective as an investigator, and as a result winds up undermining the reader's sympathy. The story's ending, while satisfying, doesn't suggest any follow on adventures here, which is a pity, because I've always wanted a series with a Hudson Valley setting, having grown up in the region. On the other hand, by the time it's done I wouldn't wish any more adventure on Joe Trumbull, so maybe it's for the best.