ABOUT THE BOOK:
Nick Mason has already spent five years
inside a maximum security prison when an offer comes that will grant his release twenty years early. He accepts -- but the deal comes with a terrible price.
Now, back on the streets, Nick Mason has a new house, a new car, money to burn, and a beautiful roommate. He’s returned to society, but he's still a prisoner. Whenever his cell phone rings, day or night, Nick must answer it and follow whatever order he is given. It’s the deal he made with Darius Cole, a criminal mastermind serving a double-life term who runs an empire from his prison cell.
Forced to commit increasingly more dangerous crimes, hunted by the relentless detective who put him behind bars, and desperate to go straight and rebuild his life with his daughter and ex-wife, Nick will ultimately have to risk everything—his family, his sanity, and even his life—to finally break free.
READ AN EXCERPT:
Nick Mason's freedom lasted less than a minute.
He didn't see it then, but he'd look back on that day and mark those first
Mason had effectively signed a contract. When most men do that, they know what's expected of them. They get to read the terms, understand what the job's going to be, know exactly what they'll be expected to do. But Mason didn't get to read anything, because this contract wasn't on paper at all, and instead of actually signing anything, he simply gave his word, with no idea what would come next.
It was late afternoon, the heart of the day spent on processing and change-out. The daily discharge from USP Terre Haute. Typical prison operations, hurry up and wait, the screws dragging their feet all the way to the end. There were two other inmates with him, both anxious to get outside. One of the men he'd never seen before. Not unusual in a prison with so many separate units. The second man was vaguely familiar. Someone from his original unit, before he made his move.
“You're getting out today,” that man said, looking surprised. You don't talk about the length of your sentence with most men in this place, but there's no need to keep it a big secret, either. This man had obviously figured Mason for a long-timer. Or maybe he'd heard it from someone else. Mason didn't care. He shrugged the man off without another word and went back to his final release forms.
When Mason was done with those, the clerk slid a plastic tray across the counter with the clothes he'd been wearing the day he processed in. It felt like a lifetime ago. He'd arrived here in this same room and
All three men walked out together. The concrete walls, the steel doors, the two rows of chain-link fence topped with razor wire – all left behind as they stepped out onto the hot pavement and waited for the gate to grind open. There were two families waiting there. Two wives, five kids, all of them looking like they'd been standing there for hours. The kids held handmade signs with multicolored letters, welcoming their
There was no family waiting for Nick Mason. No signs.
He stood there blinking for a few seconds, feeling the hot Indiana sun on the back of his neck. He was clean shaven and fair-skinned, a little over six feet tall. His body was taut with muscle, but lean like a middleweight. An old scar ran the length of his right eyebrow.
He saw the black Escalade, idling near the sidewalk. The vehicle didn't move, so he walked down to it.
The windows were tinted. He couldn't see who was inside until he opened the front passenger's side door. Once he did, he saw that the driver was Hispanic, with dark sunglasses covering his eyes. One arm draped over the steering wheel, the other at rest on the gear shift. He wore a simple white T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, jeans and work boots, one thin gold chain around his neck. Dark hair pulled back and tied with a black band, and as Mason's eyes adjusted, he saw the gray threaded through the man's hair and the lines on the man's face. He was at least ten years older than Mason, maybe a few more. But he was rock solid. His arms were tattooed all the way down both arms to his fingers, and he had three rings in his right ear. Mason couldn't see the other, because the man did not turn to him.
“Mason,” the man said. A statement, not a question.
“Yes,” Mason said.
Today, Mason didn't have a choice. He got in and closed the door. The man still hadn't turned to face him. He put the vehicle in gear and accelerated smoothly out of the prison parking lot.
Mason scanned the vehicle. The interior was clean. The leather seats, the carpet, the windows. He had to give the man credit for that much. The vehicle looked like it had just rolled out of the showroom.
He gave the man's tattoos another look. No prison ink here. No spider webs. No clocks without hands. This man had spent a lot of time and money in the chair of a real pro, even if some of the color had faded over time. There was an Aztec lattice going all the way up the right arm, with a snake, a jaguar, a headstone, and some Spanish words meaning God knows what. What was unmistakable were the three letters in green, white, and red on the shoulder. LRZ. La Raza. The Mexican gang that ruled the West Side of Chicago.
Another rule broken, Nick thought. Rule Number Nine: Never work with gang members. They've sworn a blood oath of loyalty. But not to you.
An hour of silence passed. The driver hadn't offered so much as a sideways glance. Mason couldn't help but wonder what would happen if he turned on the radio. Or actually said something out loud. Something made him stay silent. Rule Number Three: When in doubt, keep your mouth shut.
After driving past every exit on US-41, they finally pulled off. For an instant, Mason wondered if this whole thing had been a setup. It was an unavoidable prison reflex, to be ready for the worst at any moment. Two hours away from the prison, somewhere in the middle of western Indiana, the driver could pull off on the most abandoned exit he could find, drive a few miles into the farmland and then put a bullet in the passenger's head. Leave his body right there in the ditch beside the road. You wouldn't go to that much trouble to do something that could have been done already, on any given day standing around the prison yard, but Mason could still feel his body tensing as the vehicle slowed down.
The driver pulled into a gas station. He got out and pumped gas into the tank. Mason sat there in the passenger's seat, looking out at the little
The driver got back in and started the vehicle. He pulled out and drove back onto the highway, pointed north and hit seventy on the speedometer. Dark clouds began to assemble in the sky. By the time they reached the Illinois border, it was raining. The driver turned on the wipers. The traffic got heavier and the lights from the other cars were reflected
The tall buildings were lost in the clouds, but Mason would have known this place, no matter how dark the
He was almost home.
But first the long pass over the Calumet River, the cranes and drawbridges and power lines. The harbor was down there. The harbor and the one night in his life when everything changed. The one night that led him all the way to Terre Haute and to a man named Cole. Then somehow all the way back, a lot sooner than he expected.
He counted down the streets. Eighty-seventh Street. Seventy-first Street. They were on the South Side now. The rain kept falling. The driver kept driving. Garfield Avenue. Fifty-first Street. You want to start an argument, you go into any bar around here, ask the regulars if Canaryville starts at Fifty-first or Forty-ninth. Stand back and watch the words fly. Then the fists if it's late enough.
They passed the big train yard, a thousand boxcars waiting for an engine. Then the tracks running high along the eastern edge of his old neighborhood. Mason took a breath as they passed Forty-third Street. His whole life came back to him at once in a sudden flood of almost random memories, both good and bad – Eddie's dad taking them to old Comiskey Park, the first car he ever stole, the only game he ever got to see Michael Jordan play in person, the first time Mason spent the night in jail, the party where he met a Canaryville girl named Gina Sullivan, the day he bought their house, the only place he could ever call home… it was all right here, wrapped up together in the city of Chicago. The alleys and the streets of this place ran through him like the veins in his body.
The lights were on at the new Sox park, but it was still raining too hard to play. The Escalade went all the way downtown, crossing the Chicago River. The Sears Tower – always and forever the Sears Tower, despite whatever new name they try to give it – dominated the skyline and looked down at them through a sudden break in the clouds, its two antennae like a devil's
The driver finally got off the highway and took North Avenue all the way across the North Side, until Mason could see the shores of Lake Michigan. The water stretched out in blues and grays forever, blending into the
Mason hated the Cubs. He hated everything about the North Side. Everything it represented. When he was growing up, the North Side was everything he didn't have, and never would have.
The driver made his last turn, onto the last street Mason thought he'd see that day. Lincoln Park West. It was four blocks of high-end apartment buildings overlooking the gardens and the conservatory and the lake beyond. There were a few
The driver broke the silence. “My name is Quintero.” He made the name sound like it came from the bottom of a tequila bottle.
“You work for Cole?”
“Listen to me,” Quintero said. “Because everything I'm about to say is important.”
Mason looked over at him.
“You need something,” Quintero said, “you call me. You get in a situation, you call me.
Don't get creative. Don't try to fix anything yourself. You call me. Clear so far?”
“Beyond that, I don't give a fuck what you do with your time. You were inside for five
Mason turned and looked out the window.
“Why are we here?”
“This is where you live now.”
“Guys like me don't live in Lincoln Park,” Mason said.
“I'm going to give you a cell phone. You're going to answer this phone when I call you. Whenever that may be. Day or night. There is no busy. There is no unavailable. There is only you
Mason sat there in his seat, thinking that one over.
“The phone is in here,” Quintero said, reaching behind the seat and bringing out a large envelope. “Along with the keys to the front and back doors, and the security code.”
Mason took the envelope. It was heavier than he expected.
“Ten thousand dollars in cash, and the key to a safe-deposit box at First Chicago on Western. There'll be ten thousand more on the first day of each month.”
Mason looked over at the man one more time.
“That's it,” Quintero said. “Keep your phone on.”
Mason opened the passenger's side door. Before he could get out, Quintero grabbed his arm. Mason tensed up – another prison reflex, someone grabs you, your first reaction is deciding which finger to break first.
“One more thing,” Quintero said, holding on tight. “This isn't freedom. This is mobility. Don't get those two things confused.”
Quintero let him go. Mason stepped out and closed the door. The rain had stopped.
Mason stood there on the sidewalk and watched Quintero's vehicle pull away from the curb, then disappear into the night. He reached into the envelope and took out the key. Then he opened the front door and went inside.
The door to his right opened
The other spot in the garage was empty. He saw the faint outline of tire tracks. Another car belonged here.
Mason opened another door and saw a full gym. A row of dumbbells neatly arranged in pairs ranged from nothing to the big fifty-pounders at the end. A bench with a rack, a treadmill, an elliptical trainer. A television was mounted high in one corner of the room. A heavy bag hung in another corner. The back wall was a full mirror. Mason looked at his own face from twenty feet away. Cole had told him he could go anywhere in the world with this face, but he never thought he'd end up in a Lincoln Park townhouse.
He went up the long flight of stairs to what was obviously the main floor of the townhouse. The sleek, modern kitchen had polished granite countertops, an island with a Viking stove and a restaurant hood hanging over it. The bar top looked out over a great open area dominated by the largest television screen Mason had ever seen. He was pretty sure the square footage of the screen was larger than the square footage of the cell he woke up in that morning. In front of the television was a U-shaped expanse of black leather, with a large oak coffee table in the middle. You could easily sit a dozen people here. It made the quiet emptiness of the place feel like a sin.
The formal dining room had a table long enough to seat all dozen people that had watched the television in the other room. He left that room and went into what turned out to be the billiards room. An actual room for billiards with a red felt table and a woven net under each pocket. There was dark paneling on the walls. A pair of stained glass Tiffany lamps hung over the table. The far corner of the room was set up for darts, and yet another corner had two overstuffed leather chairs with a three-foot tall humidor between them. Looking through the glass at the selection of cigars inside, Mason remembered how a single cigarette could go for ten dollars in Terre Haute. A carton could get someone killed.
He went up another set of stairs to the top floor. There were bedrooms on each side of a long hallway. When he got to the last door, he tried turning the knob. It was locked.
Mason went back downstairs and found a door on the other side of the kitchen. He walked through and saw another bedroom suite. There was an iron-framed bed topped with black linen, and on top of that were several shopping bags. He took a quick look through them. Pants, shirts, shoes, socks, underwear. Belts, a wallet, everything a man could possibly need. Most of the bags had come from Nordstrom and Armani. One from Balani, the custom shop on Monroe Street. He did a quick check on the tags. Everything was his size.
I don't see my new friend Quintero doing this, he thought.
Mason went back out to the kitchen and opened up the refrigerator. After five years of prison food, Mason stood there staring at the salmon, at the cooked and chilled lobster, at the aged steaks. He didn't know where to start. Then he saw the bottles of beer on
He opened the bottle and took a long swallow. It took him back to summer nights sitting out on his porch. Listening to a ballgame with Eddie and Finn. Or listening to his wife and watching their daughter try to catch fireflies.
He found a takeout container of beef tenderloin with some kind of shiitake mushroom sauce, with angel hair pasta. He went through the drawers until he found the silverware, grabbed a fork and ate the entire dish cold, standing there in the middle of the kitchen. He wondered what the inmates in Terre Haute had for dinner that night.
Wednesday night, he said to himself. Usually hamburger night. Or at least what they called hamburger.
When he was done eating, he went to the black leather couch, found the remote control, and turned on the television. Leaning back and putting his feet up on the table, he took another long swallow from his beer, found the rain-delayed White Sox game, and watched the last inning. The Sox won. Then he spent a few minutes flipping up and down through the channels, just because he could. You try doing that on the television in the common room and you'll start a riot. He shut the television off.
He went back to the refrigerator and took out another Goose Island, then went outside through the big sliding glass door off the kitchen. Still high above the street, with a swimming pool sunk into the great concrete monolith beneath the patio, the water surrounded by
Mason went to the rail and looked out at the park, and beyond that the endless horizon of Lake Michigan. He could see the lights from a half-dozen boats on the water. He could hear the distant bass notes from a car cruising by on the street. A perfect summer night to be out on the town, no matter where you were going.
A breeze came off the lake and gave him a brief chill. Sixteen hours ago, Mason had woken up in a maximum security prison cell. Now he was standing in a townhouse in Lincoln Park, drinking a bottle of Goose Island and looking out at the lake.
I knew this man had power, he said to himself. But that was a federal fucking prison I walked out of today. How does one man make that happen?
Unless there's even more to him than I know…
As he was about to turn away, he looked up and saw the security camera, its little red light blinking. There was a similar camera on each of the other three corner posts. Someone, somewhere, was watching him.
This was his life now. It felt like he was holding his breath, waiting to see what this would truly cost him. How long until that happened?
How long until that phone rings?
When he finally went back into his room and lay down in his bed, he stared at the ceiling for a long time. He was tired. But his body was waiting for the guard to call lights out. Waiting for the metallic click of his cell door locking shut. Then the horn, that lonely faraway buzz that sent him to bed, every single night, for the last five years.
The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Secret Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton is a 2016 G.P. Putnam’s Sons publication.
I’m always curious when an author steps away from his bread and butter series and starts a new one or writes a stand alone. I know Steve Hamilton from his Alex McKnight series, which is very enjoyable, so I felt confident the author would meet those standards no matter how far off the beaten path this story was by comparison.
Nick Mason receives a ‘get out of jail free’ card, but it comes with a hefty price. Five years ago, Nick was sentenced to a twenty-five year prison sentence. He soon finds he has been singled out by a long timer, Darius Cole, who runs a thriving business outside the prison walls, in Chicago. Darius needs someone on the outside to do his bidding and feels Nick is the best man for the job.
Suddenly, Nick finds his conviction overturned and his freedom restored. Not only that, he’s been provided with a plush Lincoln Park apartment, a nice car, and a big fat wad of cash which is replenished on a monthly basis. The catch? He must do whatever he is told, when he’s told to do it. When his phone rings, he must obey and perform the task assigned to him, no questions asked…
I don’t know why I was under the impression this was a stand alone novel, but it would appear it is the first book in a series.
Nick is one of those anti-hero types, a man who tries to live a clean and straight life, but keeps getting sucked back into the criminal element, each time worse than the last. This time, despite the loathing he has for what he is being forced to do, he has no choice but to make the best of a bad situation.
I think Nick makes an interesting character study, and is a person you feel bad for and even like, but who also commits horrible crimes, with only a modicum of remorse. The scenes with his daughter are especially poignant, but his attempts to lead a regular life are futile, even though he continues to delude himself into thinking he can still pull it off.
The Chicago setting is perfect for this stylish crime novel that employees a slight noir atmosphere, and is packed with nefarious characters from both sides of the law. There is plenty of action, violence, emotional conflict, and even a little romance, to cap things off, although this part felt slightly forced.
It’s too soon to tell how well the series will develop from here on out. I feel this series has a vast amount of promise, but, it will all hinge on that all important second book. As it stands right now, based on the momentum of this book, it could go either way.
Overall, this is a pretty big departure from the Alex McKnight series and fans of this author may be a bit surprised by it, but if approached with an open mind, I think you’ll find this is a pretty interesting crime drama, and I do recommend giving it a try.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Steve Hamilton is one of the most acclaimed mystery writers in the world, and one of only two authors (along with Ross Thomas)
to win Edgars for both Best First Novel and Best Novel. His Alex McKnight series includes two New York Times notable books, and he’s put two recent titles on the New York Times bestseller list. He’s either won or received multiple nominations for virtually every other crime fiction award in the business, from the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award to the Anthony to the Barry to the Gumshoe. But it was his standalone The Lock Artist that made publishing history, his first book to win an Edgar for Best Novel, a CWA Steel Dagger for Best Thriller in the UK, and an Alex Award – which is given out by the American Library Association to those books that successfully cross over from the adult market and appeal to young adult readers. The Lock Artist has been translated into seventeen different languages, and was an especially strong seller in Japan, where it was voted the number one translated crime novel of 2012 by both the annual Kono Mystery Ga Sugoi guide and by Weekly Bunshun magazine.
Hamilton’s very first book, A Cold Day in Paradise, won the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin’s Press Award for Best First Mystery by an Unpublished Writer. After it was published, the novel went on to win the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award for Best First Novel, the only first novel to win both awards. That book introduced Alex McKnight, an ex-cop now making a living renting cabins in the small town of Paradise in Michigan’s isolated Upper Peninsula, who becomes a reluctant private detective.
Hamilton’s second Alex McKnight novel, Winter of the Wolf Moon, was named one of the year’s Notable Books by The New York Times Book Review and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, as did his next three novels, The Hunting Wind, North of Nowhere and Blood is the Sky (which won the 2004 Gumshoe Award). As of 2015 there are ten books in the Alex McKnight series.
Night Work is a departure from the Alex McKnight series, featuring instead a probation officer in upstate New York. Night Work was nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association top award, The Duncan Lawrie Dagger.
In 2006, Hamilton won the Michigan Author Award for his body of work.
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