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.
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)