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Book Talk: Hamilton, ‘Island of Thieves’

The thief has to work in the dark, get past armed guards, avoid surveillance cameras, overcome the circuitry for various alarm systems, cut his way through a metal cage, and acquire an object that was set on a pedestal. The entire time, his progress is being checked. The thief is Van Shaw, the people watching him are agents of a possible employer, and the theft is actually the rehearsal for a legitimate job.

When Glen Erik Hamilton introduced Van Shaw in his debut novel “Past Crimes” (reviewed in this column on Nov. 10, 2021), we learned that Van was raised to be a professional thief by his Irish grandfather Dono. Both were named Donovan, with Gramps using the first four letters of the name and grandson taking the last three.

In the most recent novel, “Island of Thieves” (2021, 450 pages), Van is a reformed thief and former Ranger, having served ten years in the armed services. Now, he’s a silent partner in a Seattle night club where he tends bar. However, he is contacted by Sebastien Rohner, an enigmatic business tycoon, who has an upcoming meeting with some potential partners at his retreat, Briar Bay Island, just south of the Canadian border. The island is also home to Rohner’s art collection, and he expresses concern that someone may attempt to steal some of the valuable pieces.

Rohner already has a security company and his own guards. Van understands that Rohner knows about his past as a thief, but the eccentric tycoon nevertheless wants to hire him to safeguard his prized objects d’art in the museum. Van says, “You want me to test its security.”

Rohner replies, “I want you to be its security… I believe someone will attempt to steal one or more pieces of art from me during the next week. I require you to stop them. Set a thief to catch a thief, yes?”

Once on the island, Van is confronted by Rohner’s chief of security who distrusts his employer’s choice. Misgiving mounts when Van discovers the body of Nelson Bao floating in the surf, stuck among rocks on the rugged coastline. Bao was one of the principals in a multi-corporate deal that Rohner is trying to put together.

Already a “person of interest” in Bao’s death, Van seems to be the prime suspect when a second murder occurs. Marked by a presumption of guilt, Van has no choice other than to go on the run until he can track down the killer. His quest for truth is obstructed by the fact that he is being hunted by the Seattle police, an enraged Rohner and his operatives, and a couple of psychopathic hitmen.

As he is pursued from coast to coast, it becomes clear to Van that he had been set up from the very beginning to be the fall guy. In this well plotted page-burner, Hamilton has created a work that Publishers Weekly calls a “perfect mix of serious crime and caper movie.” As he works his way toward the exciting climax, it becomes clear why Hamilton has won numerous accolades and has been nominated for the Edgar, Barry, and Nero Awards.


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It is recommended that Hamilton’s books be read in order: Past Crimes, Hard Cold Winter, Every Day above Ground, Mercy River, A Dangerous Breed, and Island of Thieves. Jim Glynn may be contacted at



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