'Dead Man Running' Author marks anniversary of his most famous character

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By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

For five years, fans e-mailed Michigan native Steve Hamilton, a New York Times best-selling author, wanting to know when he’d bring back his most famous character Alex McKnight.

“Oh, yeah, I hear from people all the time — ‘When’s Alex’s coming back?’ I’m glad that now I have a good answer. He comes back (Tuesday) Aug. 21,” said Hamilton, 57, of upstate New York, a University of Michigan alumnus and two-time Edgar Award winner.

“Dead Man Running” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons $26) marks the return of Alex McKnight — a former Detroit cop who’s now a private detective/bounty hunter in the Upper Peninsula city of Paradise — in his deadliest case yet.

The 11th installment in the series, it is the first McKnight novel since 2013’s “Let It Burn.”

“A Cold Day in Paradise,” published in 1998 — which was Hamilton’s first novel and Alex’s first appearance — won the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Award for Best First P.I. Novel by an Unpublished Writer.

Hamilton returned to Michigan this week to launch a multi-city tour across his home state, begin.

“This is the return of Alex McKnight. I’m starting my book tour in Michigan because I can’t imagine anywhere else,” said Hamilton. “When I first started writing, I came back to Michigan for that very first book. It’s hard to believe that it was 20 years ago. It was this month, actually.

This month is the 20th anniversary of the first Alex McKnight book. After all the things that have happened since then, I’m still a Michigan boy coming back to Michigan; it’ll feel really good to be there. I hope a lot of people come out so I can thank them in person.”

In “Dead Man Running,” the FBI capture serial killer Martin T. Livermore, who sadistically tortured and murdered five women. However, he informs the FBI that a sixth woman is alive in a remote desert canyon in Arizona and he will lead them to her.

The only catch is: They must bring along Alex.

However, Alex doesn’t know Livermore. He never encountered him during his days as a cop, nor as a P.I. In fact, he’s never seen Livermore in his life, so he doesn’t understand why this cunning psychopath has adopted him as his arch-nemesis.

More people are killed along the way in this deadly game of cat of mouse Livermore forces Alex to play, teasing him about their past connection that binds them together.

“Alex has no idea who this guy is and how he can have any connection to this guy – that’s the absolute mystery,” said Hamilton. “Often, in some of the books he will travel and leave the UP, but he’s usually compelled to that because he knows why he’s doing it – it’s very
specific… With this book, there’s a reason that took him away from the UP, but he doesn’t know why. He has no idea. That’s how I got the idea of the absolute, most evil character he’s ever come up against. He’s really in a different world; a desert canyon in Arizona is about as far away from the UP in the middle of winter as you can get.”

“Dead Man Running” is told from the first-person perspective of Alex and the third-person perspective of Livermore.

This is the first McKnight book where there’s another point of view character, according to Hamilton.

“It was not easy to be in (Livermore’s) head in this book; there’s just some characters you don’t want to spend time with, but for this to be a balanced book, this time you have to see things from that twisted, upside-down point of view. When you create a character like this, there’s a still a logic and a reason for everything. He’s still driven by basic human needs and emotions, but you turn them upside-down a little bit. There’s something deeply wrong with this guy, but we can still understand what he’s doing,” explained Hamilton. 

Hamilton — who also writes the critically acclaimed Nick Mason series — talked about why there was a five-year gap between Alex novels.
“It’s funny that a fictional character needed a break,” he said. “I felt that way before. I needed a break before and (wrote) ‘The Lock Artist' ... I came back to Alex because I needed to know what he was up to next. I’ve always felt that way because no matter what I did, this character was there with me from the beginning – this was the first book, the first character ... Even now after I took some time away to write the Nick Mason series, I knew I’d go back at some point. I decided now is the time.

“Now I can take a book and see how’s doing. I knew I’d always come back. It always feels really good to come back. This is really an old friend and a place that I know ... It all starts in Paradise, a town I know well.”

Hamilton’s tour, scheduled to begin today, has a stop planned in Paradise on Saturday, Aug. 25.

Both his Nick Mason and Alex McKnight books have been optioned by Hollywood and a TV series featuring Alex is currently in the works.
Hamilton is an associate producer.

“I’m not sure what that means. I’m not sure anyone knows what that means,” he said, laughing. “But I’m definitely involved in it and will always be involved with Alex.”

Hamilton isn’t focused on that at the moment, however, but rather on on his book tour.

One stop that will be bittersweet is his final appearance at Aunt Agatha’s in Ann Arbor.

Earlier this year, Aunt Agatha’s co-owners Robin Agnew and her husband Jamie announced the bookstore would close its doors Friday, Aug. 31, after 26 years.

“I’ve been there for every book. It’s gonna be a very emotional night when I’m there and I realize the story is closing. Robin and Jamie are like family to me now. They literally made that store work in the shadow of the Borders (the Ann Arbor-based bookstore chain that went out of business in 2011) — the almost literal, physical shadow of Borders down the street. They outlasted them. They were so important to so many authors… When I go back there, I will thank them for that. That’s really all that I can do: Thank them and wish them the best. It just won’t be the same without them.”

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