Wilson (Knowles)

Created by Mike Knowles

Who says Canadians are nice?

At one point in Darwin’s Nightmare (2008), a hard-charging series debut, career criminal and certified nasty piece of work  WILSON confesses he isn’t “one of the good guys.”

Well, duh.

Before this blitzkrieg of a crime novel has run its course, young Wilson will have inflicted a world of hurt on his enemies–and taken more than a few licks himself. Wilson is a rumour: a professional go-between and thug-for-hire posing as a sort of semi-legit private investigator, but actually working on the sly for a very select roster of clients in the criminal netherworld of Hamilton, the hard, gritty steel town without pity that lurks on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario, just around the bend from Toronto.

But when a fairly routine gig — a “snatch-and-grab” at the local airport — goes bad, Wilson’s name is suddenly on everyone’s lips — and in everyone’s sights. The action is hard and raw and savage, and the characters are about as deliciously nasty as you’d expect. But what sets this book apart is Knowles’ considerable storytelling muscle, as he deliberately strings out the narrative (and cranks up the tension) with well-placed flashbacks to his protagonist’s dysfunctional past.

And yet it was as clean and clenched a first novel as I’ve seen, suffering few of the common debut-work excesses. Devotees of Andrew Vachss’ Burke or Richard Stark’s Parker (and other singularly named tough guys) will immediately recognize the cold-blooded pragmatism and brass-knuckled approach to problem solving. The action is straight, hard and fast, and the characters as sharply etched as this stuff gets. Fans of hard-boiled fiction take heed: there’s a new bad boy in town.

Wilson himself may not be one of the good guys, but his creator, a Canadian schoolteacher, is definitely worth keeping an eye on. And he’s recently backed up his credentials with several solid follow-ups, including 2009’s Grinder, which has Wilson trying to escape his past in bucolic P.E.I., of all places, only to find there’s no escape, and it’s back to Hamilton he goes.

My old pal Kerry (aka “John Swan“) Schooley from Hamilton would have eaten these up. And for those griping the Wilson isn’t really a private eye, may I direct your attention to Sam Jones, Knowles’ latest creation.


  • “The evolution of the gangster novel takes a step forward with Darwin’s Nightmare. Mike Knowles’ hardboiled spin on Hamilton’s underworld is written with a tireless and controlled intensity.”
    — Allan Guthrie
  • “Relentless. Only the most ruthless survive. A fantastic new hard-boiled voice. Anti-hero Wilson is pitch-perfect.”
    — John McFetridge
  • “Combining the intense grit of Richard Stark’s Parker series with the amorality of Jim Thompson’s work, Knowles once again delivers.”
    —  Publishers Weekly
    onRocks Beat Paper (starred review)


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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