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Book Talk: The thief as investigator

What do you do when you’ve been raised by your Irish immigrant grandfather to be a crook? Dono (Donovan) Shaw taught Van (Donovan, named after his grandfather) how to boost cars, break into stores and houses, crack safes, and other valuable lessons. But, when Van Shaw came of age, he joined the U.S. Army and served as a Ranger in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He and Dono haven’t communicated for years, but while he’s recuperating from wounds in physical therapy at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, he receives a short note. “Tar abbaile, más féidir leat. — Dono.” It was written in Irish Gaelic, and it meant “come home, please.”

Van deplanes at Sea-Tac Airport, rents a car, drives to his childhood home in Seattle, and finds Dono in a puddle of blood on the floor. He hears footsteps running away, but because of his combat training he knows that the priority is to put pressure on his grandfather’s bullet wound.

While Dono lies dying in the hospital, Van begins the quest to find the shooter. With the crusty old man in a coma and unable to tell Van anything about the last ten years of his life, Van decides to hook up with two of Dono’s old pals, smuggler Hollis Brant and tech expert Jimmy Corcoran. To figure out what his grandfather has been up to, he’ll need the entire skill set he learned as a child.

The debut novel, “Past Crimes,” by Glen Erik Hamilton, gives the reader insight into the northwest’s underworld, especially in and around the waterfront. Perhaps the venue was chosen because Hamilton grew up on a sailboat and understands the environment. He spent his youth finding trouble around the commercial docks, marinas, and islands of the Pacific northwest. He also understands the complexities of family ties among diverse personalities.

During one interview, Hamilton said, “Van has matured during the years he’s been in the army. He may not completely forgive or even understand his grandfather, but he also knows that he’s not blameless himself. The two men are much more alike in their faults and loyalties than either of them realizes.”

As Van gets reacquainted with Hollis and Jimmy, he discovers that Dono had not changed his ways after Van left for the army. In fact, his last heist may have led to the shooting. Through Hollis, Van meets Ondine who reveals the magnitude of the score that Dono made.

She tells Van, “He wanted to keep the diamonds for himself…. He gave me a larger amount than I would have been owed otherwise, and he kept the rest. Perhaps four million.” The intrigue builds because Dono was not playing penny-ante poker. This was a high-stakes game, and the players were both violent and vengeful.

As circumstances change, the reader is continually challenged by a single question: Can Van straddle the line between the law and his criminal past.


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Jim Glynn may be contacted at



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