Tuesday, April 6, 2010

THE LOCK ARTIST - Steve Hamilton

 FIRST LINE: "You may remember me."

Michael isn't your average safe-cracking whiz. For one thing, he's just a teen-age kid. A teen-age kid who doesn't speak. Ever. Michael experienced a traumatic event in his childhood; a traumatic event that took the lives of his mother and father and left him mute. He's raised by his bachelor uncle who runs a liquor store. Early on, Michael develops a fascination with locks and knowing how they work. Sitting in the back of his uncle's liquor store he tinkers with locks until he figures out the secrets to a basic combination lock; he crafts some rudimentary tools and figures out how to open that door lock without a key. But when the wrong people discover this talent Michael has honed, they plot to use it to their advantage.

From the first sentence to the last sentence, I loved this book. While I don't claim to be the most well-read and knowledgeable of the entire crime fiction Canon, I found THE LOCK ARTIST to be one of the most unique books I have read in a long time. The criminal as protagonist is not a new concept, but couple that with a narrator who is young but forced to be older than his years, who is mysterious, who is incapable of verbal communication, and who is sympathetic. Those attributes connect the reader with Michael. Then Hamilton dangles two plot carrots for the reader: what happened in Michael's past to bring him to the book's time frame and what is going to happen to Michael in his present predicament.  Because of the reader's connection to Michael, devouring these two carrots is all the more desirable as the reader races to grab hold of those tempting vitals.

The allure of this book for me wasn't limited to a unique character and plot.  The beauty of Hamilton's prose and the strength of his dialogue enhance the reading experience. I felt Michael's elation as I read:

"One page of paper. Wood pulp bleached and then pressed into a thin layer. Marked with the rubbed-off graphite from a single drawing pencil. That's all it was. You understand this.

I held that page of paper in my hands for five minutes maybe, while sitting in my uncle's beat-up old car on the side of a road just outside of Milford, Michigan. On a hot afternoon turning into a hot evening. When I could finally breathe again, I put all of the pages back into the envelope. I reminded myself of the correct procedure for operating a automobile, put it in gear, and pressed the gas pedal. Steered it all the way home."

And I think I was holding my own breath through Michael's experience. It simply came alive on the page. Dialogue is equally effective in THE LOCK ARTIST. While it might seem that dialogue would be minimal in a book with a mute narrator, that's not the case. Instead inability to converse vocally leads to humor, insight, and passion:

"'I was the prize, wasn't I? Whatever you've done for him, I'm your reward.'

Now's the time, I thought. Time to speak. Make a sound. Anything. Do it right now. Just do it.

'Don't you get it? He's going to drag us down with him. Both of us.'

Open your mouth. Right now. Let it come out.

'I can't be here anymore. Not one more minute.'

You stupid fucking mutant freak. Say something."
To add to all the kudos on this novel, Hamilton handles the relationship between Michael and Amelia beautifully. They are teenagers experiencing love under exceptional circumstances. The relationship never comes across as crass or overly adult or ridiculously adolescent. And while Hamilton does draw pictures to develop their relationship, it's often what he leaves out that makes the strongest impression.

Finally, I listened to THE LOCK ARTIST read on audio by MacLeod Andrews for Brilliance Audio. This audio book is a prime example of the narrator being a perfect fit for the book. Andrews brought Michael's voice to life; he picked up on the sarcasm, the passion, and at times the desperation. His tone and pacing brought out the subtle nuances that Hamilton so expertly weaved into the prose and dialogue. This is definitely a book worth listening to on audio.

Obviously, I cannot say enough about THE LOCK ARTIST. This book will content for a spot on my Favorites of 2010 list.

THE LOCK ARTIST is available from St. Martin's Minotaur in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0-312-38042-7) and from Brilliance Audio on MP3-CD (ISBN: 978-1-144-181546-0). 

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Pop Culture Nerd April 6, 2010 at 7:06 PM  

I've heard a lot of good things about this book and think it's time to put it in my TBR pile. Thanks for the persuasive review, Jen!

Christine April 6, 2010 at 8:08 PM  

This has been on my WishList. This is his only book so far that I haven't read yet. You've convinced me I need to move it up the TBR que!

le0pard13 April 7, 2010 at 2:58 PM  

I did this audiobook early in the year (byway of other reviews I read, I threw it to the top of the TBR pile). I thoroughly agree with your review, Jen. You've captured its essence for those curious about it, and MacLeod Andrews as narrator was a great match to this material. Great review and recommendation, my friend.

Fru May 6, 2011 at 12:51 AM  

I had never read a book by Mr. Hamilton until I picked up this book and I must say it is a terrific book. It's very original and the writing is fresh and addicting. Steve Hamilton won a Edgar for best Mystery book of 2011 and that still makes him no justice. Your review excellent and made me enjoy the book once again.

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