Review of “The Lock Artist” by Steve Hamilton

This is an interesting combination of a crime/suspense book and coming-of-age novel.

The story begins at the end, when Michael, our narrator, is 27 and is in prison. From there, we gradually go back in time to when he was eight. All we know about that early time for most of the book is that Michael lived through some traumatic event in which his father and mother were killed, and that Michael hasn’t spoken a word since then.

Michael’s bachelor uncle Lito took him in, and sent him to all manner of therapists and specialists, but no one could unlock his psyche and help him to speak again. Michael, on the other hand, can unlock just about anything. He has an amazing aptitude for opening locks and safes, and soon comes to the attention of a variety of criminal characters who value his skills as well as his inability – because of muteness – to rat out other participants in robberies.

When Michael is in high school, he also develops another talent – the ability to express himself through drawing – and this attracts a beautiful girl, Amelia, with whom Michael begins to correspond by the exchange of graphic cartoon sequences.

The story alternates back and forth in time as you learn what happen to Michael after his childhood trauma and how he came to end up in prison. Each unfolding adds a little more illumination to the puzzle of who Michael is and what he has done. The last two pages are outstanding. But you won’t know how or why until you make your way through the rest of the book.

Evaluation: This is a very creative story. I was a little disconcerted by the chronological hopping around (and still don’t understand why it was chosen as a narrative device by the author) but it’s a good story, and Michael is a very sympathetic character. This is definitely a book I’d recommend.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Minotaur Books, 2010


Barry Award for Best Novel (2011)
Anthony Award Nominee for Best Novel (2011)
Edgar Award for Best Novel (2011)
ALA Alex Award (2011)
CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger (2011)

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13 Responses to Review of “The Lock Artist” by Steve Hamilton

  1. Sandy says:

    I was just sitting and thinking about various devices last night. Telling a story backwards, telling us who the murderer is but not who was murdered and why, jumping back and forth, teasing what happened but then slowly explaining the details…I like a good device. But if it wasn’t obvious to you why this style was used, maybe it was just the author trying to be clever?

  2. Steph says:

    I recently finished a novel (TBReviewed) that had a jumpy chronology. At first I couldn’t figure out why the author had used such a format because it didn’t seem to add anything and felt a bit gimicky, but by the end I was a believer. It really worked and made the story more powerful.

  3. Rural View says:

    This story sounds intriguing. I think my list is growing again.

  4. zibilee says:

    I am reading a book right now that is hopping chronologically, and while I am enjoying it, it does get a little frustrating at times. That being said, this sounds like a very unusual read with an interesting plot, and like something that I need to read. I liked books that keep you guessing all the way to the last page, and it sounds like this one does just that. I am adding this one to my list right now. Thanks for the amazing review!

  5. marthalama says:

    I have to say I don’t usually think crime/suspense and coming of age novel together, interesting concept. I don’t mind time jumping but it has to be done well or it just get muddled.

  6. “The last two pages are outstanding”…ok, for some reason I found that funny…

    like the cover, very retro looking.
    sounds interesting

  7. April says:

    Great review! This sounds interesting and the cover really grabs you!

  8. Interesting premise and the cover is unique as well. Great review!!

  9. Jenny says:

    I like a jumpy chronology, but I also like comprehensible time markers. I get cranky very fast when I feel like I’m supposed to be understanding more than I actually am understanding.

  10. Jenners says:

    Will you stop intriguing me with these books? I have to ask … does it include drawings or graphics?

  11. Julie P. says:

    I think I might just like this little book! Very unique premise.

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