Book review: Every Day Above Ground by Glen Erik Hamilton

Every Day Above Ground by Glen Erik Hamilton
Every Day Above Ground by Glen Erik Hamilton

Former military man Van Shaw is desperately trying to live every day above ground and on the right side of the law, but crime is in his genes. Can he turn down the chance to get his hands on a long-forgotten, hidden stash of gold?

Welcome back to Glen Erik Hamilton’s gripping, prize-winning thriller series which pits an intriguing and troubled ex-con with a heart of gold against some of Seattle’s most violent and ruthless villains.

An army veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, and a one-time crook, Van Shaw is an ever-evolving action man and the powerful creation of an exciting writer who, by his own admission, spent his youth ‘finding trouble’ in the marinas, commercial docks and islands around Seattle.

Every Day Above Ground, which sees our reluctant hero running for his life after a daring heist goes wrong, is the blistering follow-up to Past Crimes and Hard Cold Winter and serves up the same white-knuckle ride through danger, death and formidable foes.

It sounds like a thief’s dream to Van Shaw… terminally ill ex-con and old contact Mickey O’Hasson shows up on his doorstep and tells him of an easy fortune in gold ingots, abandoned and nearly forgotten after its original owner Karl Ekby, a notorious heroin dealer, died in prison.

For Mickey, dying from a brain tumour, the money is a legacy to ensure the future of his 12-year-old daughter Cyndra who is in the care of foster parents. For Van, the gold is not just a powerful pull to his past but the cash he desperately needs to rebuild his family home destroyed in a fire.

The grandson of career criminal Donovan ‘Dono’ Shaw, who taught him all the tricks of his trade, Van knows some things are too good to be true and he suspects that nothing is ever that easy. And sure enough, the safe holding the fortune is a trap, set by a mysterious enemy armed with vast resources and a lifetime of hatred.

Now, Mickey is in the clutches of the hunters and the former army ranger may be their next prey. But when Mickey’s innocent daughter Cyndra is threatened too, Van’s own tough childhood means he can’t let her come to harm.

To discover who set them up, Van must seek out the hunters’ real prey. His search leads him from an underground bare-knuckle fighting ring, which may be fronting a darker purpose, to a massive pop-culture convention, where Van and his grandfather’s old allies, Hollis and Corcoran, play a dangerous game with enemies on every side.

If he survives the coming storm, Van will have to decide what he wants… and whether he can live as an outlaw without sacrificing his honour.

Hamilton has proved himself a master of characterisation, pace and plotting, creating atmospheric, fast-paced thrillers brimming with visceral action sequences, dark mysteries, emotional intensity and real-life issues.

Still struggling with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and the tricky transition from military to civilian life, and constantly torn between his criminality and his morality, his instincts and his training, Van negotiates past and present in his own unique style.

In this clever, multi-layered novel we learn more of Van’s fascinating life story and start to understand his ongoing battle with the demons that dog his life as we travel back to his early, unsettled years with his thieving, safe-cracking but much-loved grandfather Dono.

The wet, wind-whipped Seattle landscape once again provides a stunning, atmospheric backdrop to a riveting thriller which confirms Hamilton’s place in the pantheon of top crime writers.

(Faber, paperback, £12.99)