The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

14th April 2011

Michael is a young man with a special talent for opening things – well, everything except his mouth. At age 8, something horrific happened to him, his mother and father, that caused him to be unable to talk. It’s not physical, but it may as well be. Michael spends the rest of his young life raised by his uncle after both his parents are dead.

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton opens with Michael telling the reader his story from prison. Michael’s talent? Picking locks. At first, he buys a couple standard locks from a junk shop and opens them. Then one night, he falls in with the wrong crowd (who previously shun him because he doesn’t speak) and breaks into a man’s house, leaving no trace the lock has been picked. The others run off when the police are called, but Michael gets caught and won’t give up his accomplices. His punishment is working for the man whose house he broke into, a man whose daughter Amelia, Michael has seen a drawing of and whose face he can’t forget.

Michael’s skill attracts all the wrong people, and he is forced to become a box man, or safe cracker, in order to safeguard the one person with whom he has been able to communicate – Amelia.

I first read about The Lock Artist at Jen’s Book Thoughts and again at Jenn’s Bookshelves. I was convinced I had to read it and bought it at Murder by the Book about a month ago. I began it late one evening and finished it the next day. It was one of my #fridayreadstakemeaway choices.

Hamilton writes one hell of a suspenseful novel: the pacing had my palms sweating, and I couldn’t wait to find out what had happened to Michael, dubbed Miracle Boy by the town where he is raised. Though holding the *big event that happened in the past that affects the present* doesn’t work for some books (I’m looking at you, Little Bee), Hamilton kills it, but he also inspired a very odd feeling in me: The more I read about Michael’s inability to speak, the more I felt as if I couldn’t speak. Yes, I know this sounds absolutely crazy and abstract, but think about it. You aren’t speaking when you read. The longer you read, the longer you remain silent. And I honestly had to stop and say a few words out loud at one point. That’s how insanely skilled Hamilton is. I identified with Michael; even though I knew he was making the wrong choices, I felt he had no other option. Why his hands are tied behind his back and the reasons for his speechlessness, well, you’ll just have to find out by reading.

But do me a favor. If you don’t feel all meta or abstract or whatever, don’t come back here and make fun of me for having to take “talking out loud breaks.” Or do. Whatever. I’ll just be happy you read The Lock Artist.

Read this one: immediately / asap / when you get a chance / if you’re bored

jenn aka the picky girl

  • Sounds as though this had quite an impact on you. Hamilton really pulled you into the narrative! 🙂

    • pickygirl

      He did! It was an experience, that’s for sure.

  • Wasn’t it fantastic? Kudos to Jen for recommending it, I’ve been telling everyone about it!

    • pickygirl

      jenn – it was fantastic. i’m so glad i saw both of your reviews. i bought the book within a week of reading them. thanks!

  • Dan B

    Going straight onto my wishlist. I’ve been on a non-fiction jag for far too long. Cheers!

    • pickygirl

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  • Oooh! this sounds exciting. New-to-me, thanks for the recommendation.

    • pickygirl

      No problem. Hope you enjoy it if you pick it up.

  • I completely understand your perceptions of being unable to talk. That was some of the magic of the book for me. Hamilton pulled me inside myself much the same way Michael was stuck inside himself. And at the same time you feel all this emotion boiling up ready to explode, but it’s stuck inside. This book is amazing!

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

    • pickygirl

      I really did – and thank you for turning me on to it originally. I thought it was incredibly different and defied a lot of neat genre sorting. And I’m so glad I’m not just plain ole crazy about the no-talking thing. 🙂

  • I’ve been reading Hamilton’s Alex McNight series for years (and love it), but he really showed a different side with THE LOCK ARTIST. Fantastic book, and great review.

    • pickygirl

      Thanks! This is my first Steve Hamilton, but you can bet I’ll be pulling everything he’s written.

  • This sounds really good! The whole concept is so provocative, and it sounds like Hamilton pulls off the conceit really effectively. I love when books affect me so viscerally.

    • pickygirl

      He does pull it off well because I could see it, in the hands of someone else, being gimmick-y. But it isn’t at all. I wasn’t expecting what I got from this book, that’s for sure.

  • A terrific book and review, Picky Girl. I read this last year and I’m happy to say that the book has been nominated for a well-deserved Edgar Award. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Steve. I’ve read all his previous books – the Alex McKnight series – and loved those as well. My favorite McKnight: BLOOD IS THE MOON. For me, that is Steve’s masterpiece. So far.

    • pickygirl

      Thanks so much, Yvette. I hadn’t realized it was nominated for an Edgar Award. I remember seeing the list, but at the time I didn’t know any of the books. I’ll definitely have to get Blood is the Moon.