The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton


Michael hasn’t spoken a word since experiencing the trauma of his parents’ death when he was but a lad of eight. Now telling his story from a jail cell, he alternates between his early teen years struggling to fit in with high school classmates1 and more recent events leading up to his current predicament. He has both a talent for drawing and a delicate touch with locks; of these the latter serves both to ingratiate him with his classmates and leads (not surprisingly) to landing him in jail. The grain which starts the avalanche begins rolling when Michael is pressured into using his lockpicking skills to facilitate a practical joke gone badly wrong2; the police arrive, Michael is the only one caught but refuses to rat out his companions…therefore he alone is stuck with a suspended sentence and community service…for the father of the boy whose room his “friends” vandalized. The father is deep in debt with the local mob, so solves two problems with one person: he hands Michael over to the local mob, whose “boxman”3 is losing his vision, and Michael slides into a life of crime from there.

A complication within the book which results in a softening of the tone of the book is that Michael falls in love with the daughter of the man for whom he’s doing community service; she’s already dating someone else but he cannot resist breaking into the house one night and leaving her the first page of a comic confessing his love for her. She does not answer him face to face, but rather creates a second page and leaves it on the seat of his car when her father isn’t looking. This continues for another four pages until they finally hook up, still without her father’s knowledge. When he does find out, he sends her away to college and lies to Michael about where she’s gone.

And have patience: We do find out the “terrifying incident” that rendered Michael mute, revealed in a combination of Michael’s own flashbacks and illustrations along the wall of the house in which it happened (now vacant) as he describes it to Amelia.

Overall, this struck me as primarily thriller dudelit, though not the most aggressively masculine of the type I’ve come across so far. The non-linear plot does add some tension to the plot, although the framing story does give away the denouement of the story. A mute protagonist wouldn’t make much sense, but since this is first person narrative, the readers do get Michael’s side of the story far better than we would have had he been as verbal as the other characters. As with other books later made into movies, librarians should probably expect an uptick in interest in this book–if it hasn’t started already, when the movie ads start hitting the movie theaters and television channels.

1a traditional trope
2members of his high school football team leaving a pennant in the room of the rival school’s quarterback
3safecracker/lockpicker

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