“Exit Strategy” by Steve Hamilton

Exit StrategyIf fans of Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight series, about a good-guy cop-turned-P.I., were willing to cut his new protagonist, Nick Mason, a little slack—well, sure, he’s a hit man, but he has a moral code!—Exit Strategy will put that willingness to the test. In his second Mason thriller, Hamilton’s Chicago ex-con proves to be a savagely effective killing machine, having to go back on his personal vow to try to keep the casualties to a minimum. Exit Strategy runs up a sky-high body count as Mason goes about his deadly duties.

While the first book in the series, The Second Life of Nick Mason, had to roll out the backstory, Exit Strategy jumps right into the action (newcomers won’t be totally lost, but it helps to have read the previous novel to fully grasp what’s going on). Nick is out of prison thanks to the powerful Darius Cole, who sits behind bars but still manages to run a thriving Chicago criminal enterprise. Cole will be a free man if Mason can bump off the witnesses who are prepared to testify against him. All that’s standing in Nick’s way is a battalion of U.S. marshals sworn to protect the heavily-guarded men, along with a bloodthirsty Irish assassin who is on nobody’s side but his own.

The reason Cole is able to exert so much power over Mason is because he has threatened to harm Nick’s ex-wife and beloved daughter if he ever steps out of line. In Exit Strategy, we learn that the ex’s new husband wants to move the family to Denver. Mason is sad that he will be so far away from his kid, but anyone reading this book will probably be rooting for the entire clan to pull up stakes to a remote part of Iceland, though Cole seems so omnipotent that one gets the sense that he could probably keep tabs on them even if they were living in a Mongolian yurt.

Like the first book, Exit Strategy is a pure adrenaline rush, almost impossible to put down once you’ve started it. But by the end, I found my feelings about Nick to be a lot less mixed than they were when I finished the earlier novel. He may not be a “bad guy” in the sense that he has evil motivations, but he definitely does bad things—terrible things—and genuinely good people suffer the consequences of his actions. Still, it’s clear that Hamilton is working at the height of his powers, and with Exit Strategy, he has written a novel as lean and ruthless as his antihero protagonist.

Note: Exit Strategy will be published on May 16, 2017. Thanks to Putnam and NetGalley for the review copy.

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