Glen Erik Hamilton kindly stopped by to talk about his new novel, Past Crimes, and much more. Please give him a warm welcome!
Congrats on your debut novel! Will you tell us a bit about Past Crimes and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you! Past Crimes is about a man named Van Shaw, who was orphaned at a young age and raised by his maternal grandfather Dono. Dono was a career criminal, a professional thief and former robber. And although Van has created a new life for himself as an adult, he’s not completely free of Dono’s influence.
The real genesis of the novel came after my wife and I moved from my hometown of Seattle to California. We would frequently revisit Seattle, just to stay mossy, and we would marvel at the rapid changes, good and ill, which were happening to the city during the latest boom period. I had recently started writing, and the notion of a crime thriller in that setting was very inspiring.
Tell us more about Van Shaw and what you think makes him a compelling protagonist?
Van is a man of extremes. He was raised as a thief, and rejected that life. He joined the Army and, at the start of the book, has been an active-duty Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly ten years, serving with distinction. Those are two very different sets of moral guidelines. In Past Crimes, he has to confront the life he left behind. And while Van has an enviable set of skills from his childhood and his training, there are whole aspects of adult life that have passed him by. He never expected to live as long as he has.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
For the criminal aspects, I broke into a lot of houses and robbed some banks, just to get the feel for the work. (In case the authorities take that previously sentence seriously, I’ll happily take reader recommendations for bail bondsmen.) For the military aspects, it was a combination of reading (notably Sua Sponte by Dick Couch, about Ranger selection and training) and interviewing veterans of Special Operations, to whom I am hugely grateful. They fact-checked the book, not only for specifics, but also for the feel of it. The cool stuff is theirs; any mistakes are mine.
Have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up aboard boats, and the time spent offshore and at anchor provided a lot of hours for reading for our family. My parents were and still are voracious readers. While I always enjoyed writing in school, I didn’t pursue it seriously until moving to California and taking a few months off between jobs. I’d go to my local library and sit in a carrel and write longhand, just to find out if I liked the grunt work of producing pages. It was even more fun than I’d hoped.
Eventually I started taking classes and finding writing groups to get better at it. I knew I had some talent for writing, but talent is cheap. Whatever I’ve achieved in my life, it’s mostly been through dogged work mixed with unreasonable enthusiasm.
Why suspense/crime? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
Whenever I jump into reading a new thriller, I have this sense of excitement. The author is going to take me on a trip, and just about anything could happen. The analogy of a roller coaster is used a lot for describing thrillers, because of the adrenaline rush, but there’s another aspect that fits. We know that the hair-raising trip is likely to turn out okay in the end, because of the conventions of the genre. That’s the bar we hold onto during the ride.
The whole idea that I can build roller coasters of my own for readers is a life dream. I’m hugely delighted whenever someone tells me that they enjoyed the journey, and grateful that they spent the time to take it. And they hardly ever notice where I’ve removed a few bolts from the track, at least until the screaming starts…
What are a few of your favorite authors?
I’ll narrow the scope to authors who are writing today, and just name a fraction of them to boot, otherwise your readers will have to scroll for an hour! In no specific order: Harlan Coben. Lawrence Block. Alafair Burke. Lee Child. Gregg Hurwitz. Louise Penny. Jo Nesbo. Michael Connelly.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Of Mice and Men, which I think I read sometime in sixth grade, was a huge eye-opener for me. I found it in our school library. I probably gave it a chance because it was short and it had a lot of dialogue – it didn’t look like heavy lifting – and I vaguely knew that it was an “important” book. But what a story. It was thrilling and scary and sad. I re-read it a dozen times. It taught me that literature wasn’t a separate thing from being a good read. And that a solid tale didn’t require a lot of frills to make it great.
What are you currently reading?
The truthful answer is: Not enough. Now that I’m writing professionally in addition to my day job, I have the least amount of time to read than I’ve ever had. That said, I’m making my tortoise-like way through some excellent novels: The Fame Thief by Tim Hallinan, The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney, and The Forgetting Place by John Burley. And I’ve just last week started reading Chelsea Cain, who is terrific. On deck are Catriona McPherson and Simon Toyne.
When you’re not writing, and can find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Ah, those precious minutes. If I’m not spending them reading or with my wonderful family, I’ll get some exercise at a local boxing gym. Boxing keeps me reasonably fit while serving as a reminder that I made the correct career choice. My weekly page count might be grueling, but at least it doesn’t give me concussions.
What’s next for you?
I just turned in the second book in the Van Shaw series to my publisher. Before I start on any rewrites for that, I’ll begin plotting Book Three. I only have the seed of the story so far, but it’s exciting enough that I’m eager to get rolling!
About Past Crimes:
When his estranged grandfather is shot and left for dead, an Army Ranger plunges into the criminal underworld of his youth to find a murderer . . . and uncovers a shocking family secret.
From the time he was six years old, Van Shaw was raised by his Irish immigrant grandfather Donovan to be a thief—to boost cars, beat security alarms, crack safes, and burglarize businesses. But at eighteen, Dono’s namesake and protégé suddenly broke all ties to that life and the people in it. Van escaped into the military, serving as an elite Army Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, after ten years of silence, Dono has asked his grandson to come home to Seattle. “Tar abhaile, más féidir leat”—Come home, if you can.
Taking some well-earned leave, Van heads to the Pacific Northwest, curious and a little unnerved by his grandfather’s request. But when he arrives at Dono’s house in the early hours of the morning, Van discovers the old thief bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. The last time the two men had seen each other Dono had also been lying on the floor—with Van pointing a gun at his heart. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, the battle-tested Ranger knows the cops will link him to the crime.
To clear his name and avenge his grandfather, Van must track down the shooter. Odds are strong that Dono knew the person. Was it a greedy accomplice? A disgruntled rival? Diving back into the illicit world he’d sworn to leave behind, Van reconnects with the ruthless felons who knew Dono best. Armed with his military and criminal skills, he follows a dangerous trail of clues that leads him deeper into Dono’s life—and closer to uncovering what drove his grandfather to reach out after years of silence. As he plummets back into this violent, high-stakes world where right and wrong aren’t defined by the law, Van finds that the past is all too present . . . and that the secrets held by those closest to him are the deadliest of all.