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THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton: Book Review

Steve Hamilton’s series with Alex McKnight is one of my favorites, and I’m glad to add his stand alone book The Lock Artist to this group.

The novel opens in the present and flashes back between different years in the protagonist’s life.  It’s the year 2000, and Michael, the lock artist, has been locked up for ten years.  He is electively mute from a childhood trauma, the details of which we won’t discover until the end of the story.  He jumps back and forth between 1991, 1996, 1999, and 2000, explaining that the story can’t be told chronologically or consecutively but that he must go back and forth to try to make the reader understand how he wound up behind bars.

Hamilton says in his acknowledgements that he had the help of a professional safecracker in his writing but that some of the details of that “art” have been changed so as not to make the novel a textbook.  Perhaps so, but you can’t prove it by me–the descriptions of Michael’s lock-picking ability are so detailed that I felt like going out immediately to the nearest Home Depot and buying a few combination locks on which to practice.

As a speechless eight-year-old coming to live with his uncle, Michael leads an unhappy life until he discovers three things:  an ability to draw, an ability to crack the codes of the most difficult locks/safes, and a teenage girl named Amelia.  To protect Amelia’s father, he is “forced” to become a member of a group of thieves and murderers.  The novel is written in the first person, which adds immediacy to Michael’s dilemmas.  He sees rather clearly each fork in the road that is leading him further into criminality but can’t seem to extricate himself without bringing hurt to the girl he loves.

Hamilton is an outstanding writer.  Even though you know from the first chapter that Michael has been caught and imprisoned, you keep reading to find out, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.  And even though this is a story told by someone committing criminal acts over a period of years, Michael doesn’t make you feel that he’s a criminal.  It’s simply that he can’t see a way out other than following the path he has started on.

Would it  have made a difference if he could speak?  We’ll never know because he can’t.  But we can listen to his thoughts, as created by Steve Hamilton, and get caught up in his silent world.

You can also learn more at Steve Hamilton’s web site.

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