Blood Is the Sky, Steve Hamilton, St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95.
If there's a better book being written somewhere this year, I'd like to read it, because Blood is the Sky is a total knockout. Five books into an already impressive series, Hamilton has smoothed out his formula and taken the reader on a thoughtful thrill ride with reluctant P.I. Alex McKnight at its center. Not falling into the trap of making the series details seem creaky and repetitive with each installment, Hamilton starts Blood is the Sky right where North of Nowhere left off, and yet, I wouldn't say it was essential that you have read the rest of the series to catch up, or to be invested in Alex as a character.
Alex is rebuilding the cabin he lives in that had been burned down at the end of the last book, with the help of his friend, Vinnie. Though he and Vinnie had had some trust issues, Vinnie feels he owes Alex a debt, and is helping him with the cabin when it becomes clear that Vinnie's brother, a hunting guide, has disappeared, along with his entire hunting party. The two men head (farther) north to find them, and this is the beginning of an unexpected saga that has Alex and Vinnie in its grip as they find not only the men, but the cause of their disappearance. Every Steve Hamilton novel has some parts that are either totally memorable (remember the ice fishing scene in Winter of the Wolf Moon?) or totally unexpected, or both. This book manages to make the entire last three quarters of the novel both. Every twist is unexpected and memorable, and I actually wouldn't mind reading this book again. I think what makes it even more of a standout, though, is that this is also a thoughtful story about friendship, culture (Ojibwa Indian, to be exact), and sibling rivalry and relationships. I found this book to be both the most satisfying read and the most emotionally moving of this series to date - which is saying a lot, because this is a strong series. If you only read one mystery this year, make it this one.
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