When it comes to credit, it must be given where it's due: this time, it goes to our multi-talented daughter-in-law, Lilla, for finding this series. Truth is, she didn't find it for me - but rather for my husband Jack. When it comes to books, he and I have similar tastes, but he's much harder to please. Turns out he loved this one (and as I write this, I believe he's in the middle of the eighth book in the series) - and he's been so enthusiastic about every single one that I simply had to see for myself what his fuss was all about.
This book, the winner of Edgar and Shamus awards for Best First Novel, features former Detroit police officer Alex McKnight - is the first of what is now, I believe, 10 books. On the job, McKnight was shot and nearly died (his partner was killed) ; to this day, he's still got a bullet lodged next to his heart as an unwelcome reminder. That alone probably would entice me to try the book, but the setting in Michigan's Upper Peninsula sealed the deal. We've done some traveling there, and it is to me one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Not wanting to stay in Detroit, McKnight accepts a disability pension and heads for the tiny town of Paradise, Mich., to live in a cabin in the woods. A local attorney suggests that he get a private investigator license, and in part to earn extra money and in part to put his former skills back in play, he agrees - albeit grudgingly.
But then, a gruesome murder happens, and McKnight ends up on the case on behalf of a friend (he's working for that attorney, who happens to be the attorney for the friend and his wealthy family). But gruesome isn't the only thing nasty about the murder; clues left at the scene appear to be tied to the man who shot McKnight and his partner - a man who supposedly has been in prison ever since.
Trying to solve that murder - and another - all the while keeping himself and his friend from suffering a similar fate takes McKnight all over the scenic Upper Peninsula. Sprinkled everywhere are places at which my husband and I spent quality time: Whitefish Point, with its impressive light station and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum? Check. Check. Sault Ste. Marie, watching the gigantic freighters pass through the Soo Locks? Check. Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Houghton Lake? Check. And who could ever forget driving across the awesome Mackinac Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac to connect the Wolverine State's Upper and Lower peninsulas? Certainly not me!
From the beginning, McKnight butts heads with two important characters. First is the attorney's former private investigator, who blames McKnight for taking his job. Second is the local police chief, who takes an instant dislike to McKnight to the point of crossing the line of unprofessional behavior (one aspect I didn't much care for, in fact - there doesn't seem to be any valid reason for that much anger, especially given that they've had no previous run-ins).
Despite the murders and mayhem, the book is written in a relatively low-key fashion; as I swiped the pages of my Kindle Fire, I couldn't help thinking of C.J. Box's Wisconsin game warden Joe Pickett (a favorite character from another popular series). There's a modicum of excitement and tension, although I never really feared for McKnight's life (but really - what author would kill off the main character in a series in the first book)? The ending was seemed a little rushed and a bit of a stretch - it was hard for me to believe that the person who masterminded the whole thing had the knowledge to come up with that cunning a plan.
Nonetheless, I read every paragraph with gusto, and now I'm delighted to have another series I can turn to when I'm in between works from my favorite authors. But wait - this one has all the earmarks of a favorite series as well. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy - one down, nine to go!
A Cold Day in Paradise (Minotaur Books, February 2000); 301 pp.