Chicago News met up with author Steve Hamilton who has written the thrilling novel The Second Life of Nick Mason which we reviewed last year. His second book in the series entitled ‘Exit Strategy’ has just been released and we will review it in out next issue. The Second Life of Nick Mason is scheduled to become a Hollywood movie. Hamilton explained to us his motivation for becoming a crime writer and why he made Chicago the scene of his riveting best-selling mission-impossible series.
Chicago News: So congratulations on a great book. I hear the Nick Mason series will be turned into a Hollywood film?
Steve Hamilton: That is the next step coming soon. Right now there are people working on it. But you got to get it right. Crime movies often don’t get it right. There are lots of hands in the film making process. But they should be filming in Chicago next year.
CN: So how did you decide to make Chicago the place where your bestseller ‘The Second Life of Nick Mason’ as well as this next book ‘Exit Strategy’ takes place?
SH: I grew up in Detroit and I visited Chicago. I know it well enough. When I came here I spent a lot of time doing research and visiting the different neighborhoods, meeting police and the people. I have lots of friends on the South Side. It’s a great place to set a crime scene. You have two different worlds – Canaryville and Lincoln Park.
CN: Did you decide to focus on Chicago when it became a national headline with the Laquan McDonald murder and the record homicide rate last year?
SH: No, I started writing it before the Homan Square story broke. Homan Square (a police station where suspects are allegedly tortured and denied basic rights) was in the original book. But when the book came out the reality was worse than a crime writer could make up. I spoke to a lot of homicide detectives and focused on the SOS (an elite group of organized crime detectives here who were found guilty of burglary, murder and drug trafficking). There were crazy things like ordering a hit on another cop.
CN: Can you talk about some of your characters, such as Darius Cole, the criminal kingpin who orders the hits and has part of the government in his back pocket?
SH: I’ve interviewed prisoners in a maximum security prison. They would do anything to get out. Darius is a guy who would be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
CN: I’m thinking Stringer Bell from HBO’s The Wire.
SH: Yes, great TV series. I thought the fourth season was the best. It showed what those kids go through, showing real life in Baltimore. I know David Simon (the writer and director of The Wire). I thought it would be great to have a character like Nick Mason who was forced to kill people. I think the most important scene in the book is when he sees his nine-year-old daughter for the first time. It explains why he took the deal. Why he was living a thug life – you show the human side of these characters, even the characters we don’t want to root for, like Quintero and his daughter. Everyone has their own reasons for doing things.
CN: Tell us more about Nick Mason.
SH: I wouldn’t say he’s a superhero or an anti-hero. He’s a regular guy. I thought Nick was the perfect name. And Mason I think of Anthony Mason from the New York Knicks. Built solid. Mason – bricks. A solid guy.
CN: How did you become a crime writer and were you surprised to get to where you are today?
SH: I’ve always wanted to be a crime writer, since I was eight years old. I love reading. I was a writer and worked at IBM for 30 years. I worked during the day and wrote novels until 2am every night. Nick Mason is my first book writing full time. I have seven books in mind for the series of Nick Mason. I’m having a blast. I never thought people would respond to it like they have. At events people say how much they can relate to the characters.
CN: What advice do you have to become a best-selling author?
SH: 1. You have to read. 2. You need to find Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing and 3. Fail. You have to be ok with failing. My first book got published because I failed. I failed at what I wrote, gave it up and then wrote something totally different, knowing it wouldn’t sell. The editor liked it and said, ‘Why I like it is because it is different from everything else.’
CN: Do you feel famous?
SH: People recognize me in Michigan. That is where my first Alex McKnight series took place. And every time I go on a book tour Michigan is always the first place.
CN: Your thoughts on President Trump and his tweets about the crime problems in Chicago?
SH: He says obviously what we know but offers no solutions.
CN: Are there solutions?
SH: Well, 100,000 gang members and 12,000 cops. Writers should make you understand, not judge.
CN: Something interesting we didn’t ask?
SH: I was in London to receive the Ian Fleming Steel Dragon award for crime writing and I stayed in a hotel where there was a murder committed right inside the hotel I was staying in and it happened when I was there.
CN: Nice. Latest book ‘Exit Strategy’. You focus on the witness protection program and Nick Mason, someone you could say has certain superpowers, penetrates the government program and kills one of its star witnesses. How realistic is that?
SH: WITSEC, which is the witness security program or commonly known as the witness protection program, has been around for 40 years and has protected 9,000 witnesses. Nobody has even been killed. But like I wrote in the novel, you have to follow the rules and nothing bad will happen. He didn’t do that.
By Jim Vail