A Book Spy Review: ‘The Second Life of Nick Mason’ by Steve Hamilton

61NEz0J50WL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Having grown up on the South Side of Chicago without money or luxuries, Nick Mason turned to the world of crime to make ends meet. Starting with petty crimes, Nick soon moved on to boosting cars and cracking safes, before eventually graduating to much more serious crimes such as armed robbery.

Eventually, Nick got caught and was subsequently sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. Five years into his stay at Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary, he was met with an interesting proposition. 

A man quite unlike the other inmates, Darius Cole, requested an audience with Nick. Cole, a criminal mastermind, still runs his evil empire from prison–made possible by paying off guards to have access to things like a phone, a laptop, and whatever else he needs. He’s a very powerful man with serious pull both inside the prison walls and outside of them. 

After a verbal agreement between the two men is met, Cole secures Nick’s release from prison a whopping twenty years before he was scheduled  to walk free. 

An associate of Cole’s picks up the newly freed Nick Mason and drives him to the North Side of Chicago, a place he grew up hating because he knew he’d never be able to live there. Except, now he was. Cole had made arrangements for him, and they were plentiful.

Nick now lives in a huge condo overlooking Lake Michigan, bearing a price tag north of five million bucks, complete with multiple stories, bedrooms, a wine cellar, outdoor pool and party deck, a Billards room, and more.

Plus, Nick is given a key that opens a safety deposit box at a nearby bank and is told that ten thousand dollars in cash will be waiting for him on the first of every month. All of this is in addition to a sweet Mustang he gets to drive and a smokin’ hot roommate (she works for Cole too) he gets to share the awesome condo with.

Talk about trading up!

From a cash-strapped criminal turned inmate to a free man with riches he’s never even dreamed of, Nick Mason has literally traded in one life for another. But like anything in life that seems too good to be true, it usually is.

There’s a catch, and it’s a doozy. 

The last thing Cole has given to Nick is a cell phone which, in itself, doesn’t sound so bad. Then comes the fine print. Anytime it rings, day or night, he’s to answer it and then do whatever he’s told. No exceptions, no excuses. There are no sick days or “oops, this is a bad time for me.” The phone and any directions that are given to him through it come first. Period.

Meanwhile, the detective who sent Nick to prison is once again tracking him–working tirelessly to uncover all the dirty details behind Nick’s release from prison. One slip-up and he could be headed back to his old life in Terre Haute, this time for good. 

As Nick settles into his new life of riches, he realizes things aren’t quite what they first seemed. The pool and party deck, for example, while nice and inviting, also have another feature–a surveillance camera that points inward. Similar cameras are also located in other various places around the house, designed to monitor whoever was inside the residence. 

Between the cameras and the phone, not to mention the constant reminder that failure to answer it and immediately comply with any and all directions he may be given would result in big problems, Nick comes to the startling realization that he’s not “free” after all. Instead, he’s simply traded in one prison for another. 

Hell-bent on winning back his freedom, Nick realizes he must risk everything for one final chance to right the wrongs of his past, or die trying. 

A sizzling mystery with pulse-pounding suspense, The Second Life of Nick Mason is a thriller fan’s dream ride from beginning to end. 

Why I loved it 

Nick, for all his past criminal actions, is surprisingly likable. A lot of the robberies he partook in were to knock off other criminals. Like, for example, law-breaking bartenders who allowed patrons to gamble with actual cash instead of the fake, digitized “money” the bartop slot machines were designed for. He also helped rob drug dealers, but only of their money, never their product. 

In that sense, Nick instantly reminded me of Marvel superhero Scott Lang, better known as Ant-Man. A criminal, yes, but deep down he’s a good man who truly loves his wife (now ex-wife) and daughter.

The dynamic of Nick working for Cole, committing more dangerous crimes each time his phone rings, while also trying to avoid the police officer who originally arrested him is phenomenal. The tension in this book is palpable, with a double dose of suspense and a plot that moves only a tick below lightspeed. I couldn’t put it down, and I didn’t want it to end. 

My only gripe is that the ending came fast, and I thought there would be more to the story’s conclusion. Without spoiling anything, there were several loose ends I wish we could have seen tied up. But, because this book is the first in a new series, it’s likely the author did this by design. 

Why you should read it

Nick Mason isn’t the only one starting a second life. Steve Hamilton began a second life, or second phase in his career, by recently switching publishers from St. Martin’s Press to G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Hamilton was originally set to publish this novel with St. Martin’s  but parted ways with them weeks before The Second Life of Nick Mason was set to be released. The breakup, which came after seventeen years of working together, was both messy and public. Hamilton, though, didn’t stay a free agent for long.

G.P. Putnam’s Sons (the publishing home to New York Times bestselling authors C.J. Box, Alex Berenson, Tom Clancy, Robert Crais, Clive Cussler, W.E.B. Griffin, and many others) eventually won a bidding war (I’ve heard as many as ten publishers were pushing to get Hamilton locked up) and signed Hamilton to a four-book deal.

It’s even been reported by U.S. News that Hamilton’s agent, Shane Salerno, paid the nearly $250,000 it took to get Hamilton out of his contract with St. Martin’s Press. Normally it’s the author who is responsible for paying those costs. 

The Second Life of Nick Mason is the first book to be released under Hamilton’s new deal with Putnam, and if this is any indication of what’s to come in the future, then the real winners here are the fans. I haven’t read all of Hamilton’s previous books, but I have read several and this one is superior in every way. 

While Hamilton is also going to be continuing his  Alex McKnight franchise, The Second Life of Nick Mason is the beginning of a brand-new series, giving the two-time Edgar Award-winning author multiple hit series to work with (his deal with Putnam calls for two Nick Mason books and two Alex McKnight books).

There’s a reason why there was a bidding war for this book–it absolutely rocks! And if all of that isn’t enough to make you want to read it, there’s also this: Lionsgate snatched up the film rights with plans to turn it into a major motion picture down the road.

Don’t take just my word for it, though. Here’s a blurb from the cover of The Second Life of Nick Mason:

“Trust Steven King. This book is the real deal.” – Stephen King

Book Details

Author: Steve Hamilton

Pages: 288 (Hardcover)

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Release Date: May 17, 2016 (Order now!)

Note: The Second Life of Nick Mason debuted at #15 on The New York Times bestsellers list. 





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