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Book Reviews: Misery Bay and Hotel No Tell 

Misery Bay
Steve Hamilton
Minotaur, 2011, $24.99

Hotel No Tell
Daphne Uviller
Bantam, 2011, $15

The suicide of one’s child is an unimaginably horrible thought, and Steve Hamilton uses this simple truth to chilling effect in Misery Bay, creating a calculated trail of vengeance that his taciturn, driven investigator Alex McKnight must untangle. The setting is northern Michigan in winter, a place so bleak and punishing that the question of why anyone wants to live there (instead of, say, Kingston, New York, where Hamilton’s Night Work unfolds) might be considered a mystery in itself—one that puzzles quite a few of the residents as much as anyone.

But live there they do, and enforcing the law in such a place is a chilly business. When it becomes cruelly clear that a killer is targeting cops and their children, the law enforcement establishment faces an agony that strikes home; McKnight and a police chief he’s never much liked are thrown together by the need to outpace the FBI—not for pride, but for survival.

Hamilton builds the suspense like a master, bringing us into an emotional landscape as bleak as the physical surroundings, tantalizing with snippets of the unknown fiend’s point of view, twisting and turning at bobsled speed to a climax that stuns. If you like a good cop yarn, a psychological thriller, a thoughful hero, and an evocative landscape, Hamilton’s got you covered on all fronts.

Hotel No Tell is as evocative of lower Manhattan as Misery Bay is of upper Michigan, and as hilarious as Hamilton’s book is grim. Daphne Uviller’s heroine Zephyr, with her first real grown up job in law enforcement among wisecracking detectives who call her “Zepha Z,” is a New York gal through and through, with a bevy of old pals from prep school, a deliciously quirky family, and a warm heart laced liberally with Attitude.

When there’s foul play afoot at the Greenwich Village Hotel, Zephyr goes undercover and finds herself dealing with dysfunctional rich folks, an elderly Japanese hitwoman with a Yiddish take on life, a group of plastered New Zealanders belting out lines from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a fertility clinic, to name just a few. The fertility angle is ironic, given that Zephyr’s boyfriend and parents all think she ought to reproduce, and the idea gives her the horrors. Bright and eager to please her enigmatic supervisor Pippa, who’s given to collecting Lucite handbags and holding secret meetings on the ferry, Zephyr wades in swinging.

Her worlds overlap and collide in hilarious ways. “Macy told us you might be late. She says you’re working undercover,” a prep school buddy’s famous husband blithely greets her at a party. “So did you decide to bear your lover’s children?” a suspect she’s grilling inquires at a crucial moment. People always seem to figure Zephyr out; somehow, she stays two steps ahead and gives as good as she gets. “Where’d you get your eggs?” she asks a dear friend. “I used to go to the Union Square Farmers’ Market; now I go to Stop and Shop. I still get the cage-free.” “I meant the eggs that made your children.” Not everybody could pull it off, but Zephyr can, and one hopes Poughkeepsie resident Uviller will look downriver and find more trouble for her to get mixed up in soon.
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  • Anne Pyburn reviews books by Steve Hamilton and Daphne Uviller.


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