The Second Life of Nick Mason
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016
Already Steve Hamilton’s new novel The Second Life of Nick Mason is making waves. In late 2015, it was announced the film studio Lionsgate had acquired the rights and brought in two blockbuster producers (The Hunger Games and Avatar) to guide the book from page to screen. Given Hamilton’s success with his Alex McKnight series of detective thriller novels, this first book in a new character series promises a massive and dedicated fan-base to buttress the new movie franchise. We have to ask, however, is the source material worth it? The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’
Hamilton has had enough experience and success to craft a compelling story as well as sentences that read pregnant with implication. Take these first sentences of chapters:
“Nick Mason’s freedom lasted less than a minute.”
“Fifteen hours after committing his first murder, Nick Mason was desperate to find one good reason for it.”
“Nick Mason knew that Frank Sandoval was following him because Sandoval wanted him to know.”
“Holding his daughter for the first time in five years had made Nick Mason more determined than ever to find a way out of this nightmare.”
These sentences are dancing on the razor’s edge between cliche and noir brilliance. The snide part of me imagines Steve Hamilton always using the full names of friends, family, and acquaintances.
Plot is the engine of all crime thrillers but just as equally important is character and setting. As far as character goes, Nick Mason is a the kind of career criminal/ex-con trying to make good that we like to see. Nick Mason’s second life is one of striving for redemption. This redemption takes place in the city of Chicago where Hamilton gives just enough fine detail to make us feel the environs that his characters navigate.
The braiding of plot, character, and setting makes this a novel that begs to be imagined on the big screen. Hamilton writes compact chapters that a reader can easily visualize as scenes. I imagine that the film version of the novel, depending on casting, could be of the quality of Tom Cruise’s underrated flick Jack Reacher.
A deal with the devil or, if you will, a deal with the devil you know. Nick Mason is five years into a federal prison sentence that won’t have him eligible for parole for twenty years. Mason keeps his head down in prison but doesn’t escape the notice in kingpin Darius Cole,
“I watch you all the time, Nick. Every day. What I need out of a man, it’s all right here. Right here inside you. Don’t hurt that you’re white, too. You look sharp, you look clean, no tattoos. I can send you anywhere in the world, Nick. You fit right in.”
He sees something in Mason that he can use on the outside to keep his criminal empire running smoothly. Cole provides Mason with an opulent new home, a fantasy muscle car, seemingly endless supplies of cash, and Quintero, the ex-La Raza no-nonsense handler, who’s calls Mason must take immediately and directions he must carry out without question. It’s immediately clear to Mason that although he’s now out of prison, he’s still a prisoner. Seen as an enforcer or samurai by Cole,
“Oh, I got people who work for me,” Cole said. “People I can trust. But I need somebody special, Nick. I need a warrior. A man who can go anywhere. Do anything. I know I got myself stuck on this word, but it’s the only word that really gets at what I’m saying here. I need a samurai.”
Mason’s tasks turn more and more dangerous and criminal as he is hounded by Frank Sandoval, the detective who originally put him in prison. Mason’s endgame is getting out from under the thumb of the Cole and the eye of Sandoval to be genuinely free.
Every procedural whether a novel or television series has its own particular set of weaknesses and strengths. The weaknesses are standard genre cliches that, honestly, readers have come to expect and use as signposts indicating where and when an author will innovate. Hamilton’s strength is pacing as the novel moves steadily filling out characters and keeping the action moving.
To get a taste of Hamilton’s new novel, you can try to catch him on his summer tour for The Second Life of Nick Mason:
All in all, The Second Life of Nick Mason should more than satisfy crime thriller readers while being more than a pleasant read for the hordes of summer readers. As the beginning of a new series, Hamilton has set a solid foundation and Nick Mason is a promising character. At the same time, we should all be eager to see just how this novel is translated onto the screen.
Steve Hamilton is one of only two authors (along with Ross Thomas) to win Edgars for both Best First Novel and Best Novel. His Alex McKnight series includes two New York Times notable books, and he’s put two recent titles on the New York Times bestseller list. Hamilton’s very first book, A Cold Day in Paradise, won the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin’s Press Award for Best First Mystery by an Unpublished Writer. After it was published, the novel went on to win the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award for Best First Novel, the only first novel to win both awards. Hamilton lives in upstate New York with his wife Julia and their two children Nicholas G. and Antonia.
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