In "Night Work," Steve Hamilton introduces Joe Trumbull, a probation officer who lives and works in upstate New York. Joe is "part cop, part social worker, part guidance counselor, part rehab coordinator, part bounty hunter." His job is multifaceted: he visits his clients' homes and drags them out of bed, investigates their family lives, and writes up sentencing recommendations for the court. If he suggests probation and the judge agrees, then Joe tries to help his "knuckleheads," mostly kids in need of supervision, to stay out of prison. Joe is "your official court-designated guardian angel." He lives in a dumpy apartment above a gym, adores jazz, and dabbles in boxing.
Two years earlier, Joe's fiancée, Laurel, was murdered just days before their wedding. The case is still open. Lonely and afraid of staying that way, Joe puts a listing in a singles' site and lands a blind date with a beautiful woman. In a humorous opening, Joe approaches his evening out as if he were facing an impending execution. Fortunately, he and his companion hit it off and, for the first time in a long while, Joe is looking forward to the future. Unfortunately, a series of unexpected and terrifying events follow that make Joe the prime suspect in a series of homicides. To clear his name, he will need to find the answer to a crucial question: Who hates him enough to want to destroy him?
Steve Hamilton made his reputation with the solid Alex McNight series, and although this thriller lacks the punch of Hamilton's earlier books, it does have its strengths. Hamilton wisely sets his story in an offbeat location, Kingston, New York, and he gives his protagonist an occupation (probation officer) that is also a bit different. Joe is likeable enough, the writing is crisp and direct, and the mystery is fairly suspenseful. The only negative is that "Night Work" adheres too closely to the old formula: Nice guy tries to get over the death of his fiancée. He suddenly finds himself on the run from the cops, who suspect him of being a serial killer. He must find the real perpetrator before the detectives take him into custody. We have seen this plot too many times before, and Hamilton does not provide enough variations on this familiar theme to make his novel stand out from the crowd.