Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Review: 'The Lock Artist' by Steve Hamilton

"But He is unique, and who can make Him change?
And whatever His soul desires, that He does." -- Job 23:13 (NKJV)

Just when you thought you had read so many mysteries and crime stories that you always know what to expect from them, along comes Steve Hamilton's Edgar-winning Best Novel to show you that creativity and originality are alive and well in the genre. If you haven't read this book, you have a major treat ahead of you.

I don't want to spoil the story for you, but as the title and book cover copy suggest, the protagonist is someone who can open locks to homes, closed rooms, and safes. Many of my favorite mysteries and fictional crime stories involve burglaries. So I was excited to read this book, and I wasn't disappointed.

As gifted as he is with locks, Michael isn't so good with words. He can say them fine in his head, but his voice utters nothing. As the prologue explains, something happened in 1990 when he was eight that put Michael in the headlines as "the Miracle Boy," "Boy Wonder," and "Terror Tyke." From the beginning you'll wonder what that's all about, and that mystery unravels very slowly throughout.

The story quickly splits into three timelines that are intertwined, one describing what happened since 1990 while the other two focus on 1999 and 2000. The 1990 timeline helps you become acquainted with Michael's growing up with his uncle Lito. The 1999 story explains how he ended up on an unexpected career trajectory. The 2000 story describes his professional criminal career and includes lots of interesting details about how he overcomes locks.

Along the way, Mr. Hamilton is generous with explanations that help you understand what's going on without revealing all of the background. You are left with substantial mysteries to solve other than what happened to Michael in 1990. It's deft storytelling.

By the time you are done, you'll realize that the story has beautifully built a literary-quality metaphor for what life is all about, explained and developed from several different perspectives. When I finished the book, I had the urge to reread the book just to pick up on more of the metaphor writing. It's very impressive.

The plot is also unlike any other plot I remember. I won't allude to it further lest I inadvertently let something slip that I shouldn't.

Michael is a sympathetic and interesting character. You'll both identify with him and feel yourself pulled into the story through his observations and emotions. The book also has some other memorable characters that I will not identify by name . . . again in the interest of keeping the story unspoiled for you.

While it might sound as if the story keeps you off balance with surprises, I felt instead as though the story kept pulling me into the fictional world . . . making it seem more real and compelling. Not knowing what was coming next made me read more carefully and helped me to focus more on what was happening at that point rather than trying to fill in all of the blanks. That's because there were far more blanks than I could hope to fill in on my own until quite late in the book.

Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Donald Mitchell. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.