It’s that time of year when Mystery Writers of America nominates a slew of novels for the Edgar Awards, and announces the winners at their annual banquet in New York on April 28th. My writing pal, Karen Burgess, and I each review and rate novels in some of the categories, making our best guess at what will win. Karen and I will take on the Best First Novel category, while Karen will also plow through the Best Novel category–overachiever that she is. The nominees in Best First Novel Category are:

  1. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton
  2. Where All Llight Tends to Go by David Joy
  3. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
  4. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  5. Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm

First up is Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton. Clearly set as the first in a series for main character Van Shaw, Hamilton doesn’t disappoint in hooking the reader at the opening with a terse message from Shaw’s grandfather Donovan, AKA Dono. “Come home, if you can.” Shaw hasn’t seen Dono in ten years, since escaping from Seattle after high school to serve as an Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan. Van takes a ten-day leave to return home, where he discovers Dono shot, bleeding, but still alive. Of course the police suspect Shaw is the shooter and interrogate him. But after they let Shaw go, he enlists the help of Dono’s friends to find the shooter as Dono lingers in a coma.

We soon find out that Dono raised Shaw from age ten, schooling him in the fine art of theft and living on the wrong side of the law. Shaw is a quick study and participates in Dono’s heists during his teen years. We don’t learn why he left Seattle after a falling out with Dono, though, and the story turns on this particular plot point. There are many twists and turns as Shaw re-ignites past friendships, male and female. The hook-up with Lucy strained credulity–they pick up where they left off ten years earlier? In bed? Would that my life were that exciting. Shaw eventually puts together all the pieces and lets the reader in on the turning point reason for his leaving at eighteen, which of course directly gets at who shot (and killed) Dono (he never recovers from the coma).

Hamilton’s first effort is readable and at times interesting, though I found the Seattle setting negligible and the sense of place weak. The characters are pretty stock and two-dimensional, and I cared not one whit about whether or not Shaw discovered who shot Dono. I confess I have little interest in this type of book, one that I think is aimed at male readers (strong, tough hero, a little bit bad but not because it’s his fault, he was raised that way; who women instantly bed with because, well, just because.) I suspect it’s James Bond all over again, except this time it’s in Seattle.

On a scale of one to ten, I rate this book a three.