“Atmospheric and taut, A Dangerous Breed is a winner.”
That is how New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan described Glen Erik Hamilton’s latest Van Shaw thriller, and I couldn’t agree with her more.
In this one, the fifth in Hamilton’s underrated series, Van Shaw’s past and present collide when an ingenious blackmailer pushes him to the brink. Though I’m late to the party (I’m still trying to play catch up after getting behind due to COVID-19), I recently finished up A Dangerous Breed, and what I most enjoyed about the story was Hamilton’s ability to mix emotion with grit, suspense with whit, all the while delivering sharp dialogue wrapped around a brilliantly plotted thriller.
Thought pub day came and went, Hamilton agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the story idea for this book to what’s next for him and Van Shaw.
See the full Q&A below, then make sure to get your copy of A Dangerous Breed, now available wherever books are sold.
TRBS: The past and present collide in your latest page-turning Van Shaw novel, which is just fantastic as always! How did you come up with the story idea for this one?
Hamilton: Thank you! It was the right time to tackle one of the key unknowns in Van’s history, his parentage. His mother died when he was six, never revealing to anyone who Van’s father was. I made the decision after Van’s first appearance that I would compress the timeline of the first few books in the series. His evolution in ending active duty with the Rangers and in the year or so after mustering out were such rich soil, I didn’t want to blow past that by aging him in real-time. The first five books, counting A DANGEROUS BREED, occur in the span of about two years.
It made sense that Van would get curious about his parents now that he’s back home in Seattle. He receives a form letter sent to his late mother Moira about her high school’s thirtieth reunion—Van was born while she was still a student—and that sends him delving into her past and finding clues leading to the boy who may have fathered him. That turns out to be a prime example of be-very-careful-what-you-wish-for. The man in question is now an extremely lethal individual.
TRBS: What sort of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write?
Hamilton: Before I write, not too much. I usually have a plot in mind and isolated scenes I want to include, but many of the required details identify themselves during the first draft. That’s when the research comes. Without risking spoilers, A DANGEROUS BREED required interviewing people about a wide variety of topics, including DNA profiling, cancer, and ALS treatments, recall elections in Washington State, and federal joint task forces. And as always, I run military details past my contacts who are veterans of the 75th Ranger Regiment, to check both specific facts and Van’s mindset.
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you outline ahead of time, have a target word count you try to hit each day? What’s your secret?
Hamilton: I don’t outline chapter-by-chapter, but I often note down the order in which things happen, what character’s motives might be, and any other notions. If I start getting tangled, I’ll back up and enhance my notes to make sure I’m clear what all the players in the story are doing and why. I tend to write in spikes, one or two a year, where I’m writing steadily for 3-4 months, but I’m also attempting to spread that out a little so that the deadlines aren’t so crushing for me and for the family.
For initial drafting (not rewriting, which is a whole other beast), one thousand words is a good day, and if I have all day available I’ll shoot for two thousand. If I’m really rolling, I’ll ride that wave for as long as it lasts, and try not to edit much as I go. As Anne Lamott said, the goal above all else is to get that sh!++y first draft done, so you have something to rewrite and make better.
The secret is always persistence. Don’t be fooled by imitations.
TRBS: How have you passed time during self-isolation and social distancing due to COVID-19? Read any good books?
Hamilton: We’ve done well at portioning our small house to allow everyone to have some private space when they require it. While school was in session for our offspring, I played support roles on math and language arts and as the designed P.E. teacher for the family. I think after me, they will be happy to get back to their regular classrooms. More friends, fewer burpees. Oh, and I stopped shaving in March when this whole lockdown started, so of course, beard maintenance takes up most of my day. I’m edging past Ansel Adams toward Grizzly Adams.
And yes, I’ve done a lot of reading for both business and pleasure—escaping into a good book since we can’t escape into the real world. I may be hitting a personal best for the number of books I have going at once. On my nightstand right now are Jackrabbit Smile by Joe R. Lansdale (man, I miss the Hap and Leonard TV show too), Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke (well worth the wait for another Darren Mathews novel), Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little (hilarious and spooky in wonderfully balanced portions), and the wild card, My View from the Corner by famed boxing trainer Angelo Dundee, because if I can’t go to the gym, I can at least read about people who did, once upon a time.
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you, and when can readers expect to see more Van Shaw?
Hamilton: I’m hard at work on the sixth Van Shaw thriller now; that should come out Summer 2021 if the world keeps spinning. After that I aim to write a standalone novel; I’ve got a high-concept pitch that made me laugh out loud when I thought of it (that, dear readers, is building suspense…)
But moreover, what’s next is to adapt and survive. Doing our jobs these days means more than just earning a paycheck. The most important work we have right now is staying sane, learning the important lessons that the pandemic and these waves of social change are teaching us, and building some foundation blocks for a happier future. I feel very grateful to have my family around me, and that there are still ways to connect with readers and the writing community. Keep on keeping on, as Mr. Mayfield sang.
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.