The Lock Artist

The Lock Artist

"I was the Miracle Boy, once upon a time. Later on, the Milford Mute. The Golden Boy. The Young Ghost. The Kid. The Boxman. The Lock Artist. That was all me.But you can call me Mike."Marked by tragedy, traumatized at the age of eight, Michael, now eighteen, is no ordinary young man. Besides not uttering a single word in ten years, he discovers the one thing he can somehow...

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Title:The Lock Artist
Author:Steve Hamilton
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Lock Artist Reviews

  • Maggie Stiefvater

    Wow, am I ever on a reading roll. Considering I normally adore fewer than ten novels in a year (about one in six or seven of the books that I read), it seems impossible that I should find another novel I adore so soon after reading

    . But I adored The Lock Artist. Those of you who read my review of Where Things Come Back will remember that I was longing for a book about guns and helicopters and magic, but found Things instead. Turns out that The Lock Artist was the book I

    Wow, am I ever on a reading roll. Considering I normally adore fewer than ten novels in a year (about one in six or seven of the books that I read), it seems impossible that I should find another novel I adore so soon after reading

    . But I adored The Lock Artist. Those of you who read my review of Where Things Come Back will remember that I was longing for a book about guns and helicopters and magic, but found Things instead. Turns out that The Lock Artist was the book I was looking for then. Well, if you substitute “safes” for “magic.”

    Basically, it’s about a teen with a dangerous talent: picking locks and cracking safes. He gets tangled up with some dangerous people and dangerous things happen. Did you catch that? It is danger x 3.

    Here, without further ado, are five more things about the book.

    1. Even though it is a thriller/ mystery/ action-adventure, it’s very character-driven. Our main character (the thrillingly named “Mike”) has been silent since the age of eight, when Something Terrible Happened to Him. And by silent, I mean Quiet As The Dead And Not Like a Zombie Novel But Like a Novel Where the Dead Really Don’t Make Noise Because They Actually Are Dead. And by Something Terrible, I mean Something I Thought I Had Guessed Because I Have Read A Million Books But Actually No It Was Not That It Was Worse. Mike doesn’t speak. At all. It’s remarkable to watch how Hamilton manages this narrator who can only tell stories in his head.

    2. The pacing. There is something magical going on with the pacing in this novel, and I need to go back and take it apart slowly and methodically to figure out exactly how Hamilton did it. It’s a page turner, but . . . not like that. Ordinarily I’m quiet bored by action sequences. Right, gun, sure, kick, yep, punch, okay, blood . . . are we done here? I want to get back to the plot, and action scenes are often like sex scenes — they are just hanging there, an exclamation point on the end of a sentence that we’ve already read. But, somehow, not with this novel. I HAD to keep turning the pages, yes, but not because of the action. It was because every page left me with a question, and I had to turn the page if I ever wanted to find out the answer. It meant that instead of my usual racing through an action novel, flipping pages faster and faster, I was reading with the same care and urgency at the end as I was at the beginning. I don’t know how to describe it any better than that.

    2(b). The prose. This really is sort of in line with the pacing. When I first began reading the novel, I thought, man, this prose is so — easy. It just says what it says. Well, okay, whatever. I’ll just read a few more pages. And then, the next thing I knew, four hours had gone by and I’d finished the novel and I was hugging my Nook to my chest. The prose became utterly invisible. Like a very good thief, it got in, did its job, and got out, without leaving any trace of itself. I can appreciate just how hard it is to write a book that reads so easily. Well done, Hamilton.

    3. Girl. You know these things always have a token girl. The one that makes the hero look noble and powerful and hetero. Well, this book also has a girl, but she is smart and unique and felt like a person. There was no thumping of chests and conquests. There was just a really wonderful and slightly uncomfortable teen romance. With comic book, menial labor, and lock picking overtones.

    4. The annoying thing about thrillers is that they so rarely pay off. They’re, well, thrilling, and then you get to the end and go, yup. Well, that happened. Next? Possibly the best thing about this book is that the second half of it is as strong as the first, if not stronger, and there is one of the most psychologically horrific scenes that I’ve read in awhile in the second half. It might have something to do with the Terrible Thing That Happened to Mike. Hamilton proceeds briskly from this Terrible Scene into the denouement, which is tense and satisfying and exactly the way I wanted the book to end. That pretty much makes this book the perfect thriller in my eyes.

    5. I am not the only person who has adored this book. It is an Edgar winner (that’s a prestigious award for mystery, for you muggles out there) and it’s also an Alex Award winner, which is how I found it. The

    recognize adult books with high appeal to teen readers, and I tend to love their choices. If you compare the list of Alex winners over the years with my five-star-books on Goodreads, you’ll see considerable overlap. Because it’s an adult book, not a YA, I should mention that there are f-bombs and violence and all that jazz. More Guy Ritchie than Tarantino, though, for the most part.

    I have now managed to write a novel about this novel. If you’re looking for a book about guns and helicopters and safes, go pick it up. Or even if you’re looking for a book about guns and helicopters and magic. Because it’ll still make you happy.

  • Jeanette

    "Mute artistic safecracker" hardly sounds like a promising profile for the main character in a thriller, but it works. There's a lot of originality here that makes this fun to read.

    Michael was rendered mute by a traumatic experience at age eight. Now he's in prison for a robbery gone very wrong, and he tells the story of how he ended up in his current situation. He alternates between two story lines that eventually converge (sort of). One is the story of his young life as a mute, and how he

    "Mute artistic safecracker" hardly sounds like a promising profile for the main character in a thriller, but it works. There's a lot of originality here that makes this fun to read.

    Michael was rendered mute by a traumatic experience at age eight. Now he's in prison for a robbery gone very wrong, and he tells the story of how he ended up in his current situation. He alternates between two story lines that eventually converge (sort of). One is the story of his young life as a mute, and how he became a safecracker ("boxman"). The second story line is about the complications of his life as an on-call boxman who is unable to speak. His two great talents are drawing and picking locks. Hence, the double entendre in the title---"Lock

    ." Get it?

    There are a few things that are a little hokey, but they're amusing and they move the plot along, so I didn't mind. The thing with the Coke can and the scissors that just

    to be within reach was quite a stretch, though.

    I liked the way the pieces all came together in the story, with his artwork becoming an important part of his communication.

    One more thing: You DO get to find out what happened to Michael when he was eight, so have faith. I got deeply involved in the story, then had this awful thought that I might get all the way to the end and never know the event that made him mute. I didn't see any reviews complaining of that, so I kept going, and I'm glad I did.

    If you don't normally read thriller/mystery stories, you might want to give this a "spin" (HA!) just for unique's sake. It's not really a mystery or a thriller in the way you'd usually think of that genre.

  • Liz Nutting

    About a quarter of the way through

    , by Steve Hamilton, I began pondering one of those meta-questions about reading: What are the qualities of a book that make you not want to put it down? That compel you to read "just a couple more pages" until you wake at 4:15 a.m. with the lights on, your glasses perched on your nose and the book stretched open across your chest? That make you willing to tote two or three extra pounds of hardcover book in your bag, despite the sore neck it

    About a quarter of the way through

    , by Steve Hamilton, I began pondering one of those meta-questions about reading: What are the qualities of a book that make you not want to put it down? That compel you to read "just a couple more pages" until you wake at 4:15 a.m. with the lights on, your glasses perched on your nose and the book stretched open across your chest? That make you willing to tote two or three extra pounds of hardcover book in your bag, despite the sore neck it causes, on the off chance you'll be able to sneak away at lunch and read a chapter?

    At first glance,

    doesn't seem to be the sort of book that inspires these kind of musings. It's not book club material; there are no author interviews and high school English class style questions at the back. I only marked one passage, on page 36, with a Post-it® flag. The prose is crisp and clean, squarely in the American crime novel tradition, though more soft boiled than hard boiled. But it didn't inspire me to re-read passages (except when I realized I'd dozed off trying not to put the book down). In a twist now so conventional it's not twisted anymore, the narrator is the criminal, not the cop pursuing him. The plot, like the prose, is not complex. The author uses a technique that often annoys me, alternating chapters between past and present to build up to The Big Reveal, by which time almost anything revealed will be anti-climatic.

    All the makings of a very ordinary crime thriller--that I couldn't wait to get back to, that I sacrificed sleep for, that I couldn't put down.

    is one of those novels where all the ordinary pieces are so well done and come together so seamlessly that the result is an extraordinarily good read.

    The narrator, Mike, is the 17-year-old Lock Artist, a boxman, a yegg, a safecracker and pick-lock with natural talent. He is a specialist who is called in to do one thing, get through the locks and into the safe. He is also the Miracle Boy, who at 9 survived some unnamed horror that has rendered him completely mute. The novel alternates between telling the story of how Mike became The Lock Artist and telling the story of how being The Lock Artist wound him up in prison, where he is at the beginning of the story. Is he redeemed from his life of crime and relieved of the trauma that silences him? No spoilers here. Read it for yourself.

    One has to give some credit to Mike for making this book so gripping. He's a great character, likable, a little naive, honest despite being a thief, lacking in self-pity and stoic. His muteness allows those around him to impose their own personality on him, which he is sometimes able to use to his advantage. He does not blame anyone for his life or his own choices, and he is perhaps a bit too generous toward those who took his choices away from him.

    Mike is an artist in another way: He draws. He communicates to the love of his life through comic book panels that become his voice and finally allow him to tell his own story. It occurs to me that much of the book has that comic book quality (meant as a good thing; I like comic books). Each chapter, each scene contains only what is needed to convey the story, and yet the simplicity is deceptive because what is conveyed with a single line is more evocative than pages of text.

    Last week,

    won the 2011 Edgar Award for Best Novel. It is well-deserved. Lately I've been disappointed in several books that have garnered awards and praise and top spots on best-of lists. This book restores my faith in the award-givers that sometimes, at least, they really do know what they're doing.

  • Kemper

    How many times have I seen or read about a character picking a lock? I’m a crime/mystery fan so it’s gotta be in the hundreds. Maybe even over a thousand. It’s such a common cliché we don’t even think about anymore. A door is locked, and a character pulls out their little case with their tools and picks it . Yet this is the first story I’ve ever read that actually explains what it takes to pick a lock or open a safe. Surprise! It’s not as easy as it is in the movies, but it makes for a helluva

    How many times have I seen or read about a character picking a lock? I’m a crime/mystery fan so it’s gotta be in the hundreds. Maybe even over a thousand. It’s such a common cliché we don’t even think about anymore. A door is locked, and a character pulls out their little case with their tools and picks it . Yet this is the first story I’ve ever read that actually explains what it takes to pick a lock or open a safe. Surprise! It’s not as easy as it is in the movies, but it makes for a helluva good crime novel.

    The book is narrated by Michael who quickly explains that he’s been in prison for years and has not spoken a word in longer than that. As a child, he survived some kind of traumatic experience that left him unable to speak even though there’s no physical reason for it. Taken in and raised by his liquor store owning uncle, Michael grows up alienated and lonely, but he gets interested in locks after playing around with a discarded one and teaches himself how to pick it. The story skips around to show us that Michael got mixed up with criminals who contact him to open safes during robberies. Eventually we learn how Michael went from a mute boy who liked to play with locks to a professional safecracker and the terrible event that left him mute.

    Like

    or

    this is a character based crime novel that transcends the genre. Michael has unique voice despite being speechless, and Hamilton has created a character with the best of intentions who gets in over his head with extremely bad people. It sounds silly but there’s also an incredible amount of tension built around the lock picking and safe cracking scenes where Michael is explaining his process and getting lost in mental space where all that exists is the lock he’s trying to open.

    This is both a great crime novel and an excellent story about a young man struggling to come to terms with his past.

  • Melki

    An interesting and suspenseful story of a mute teenaged safecracker.

    The book provides such detailed intstructions on how to pick locks and open safes that I was finally able to let myself into my neighbor's house and steal those photos that he's been using to bribe...

    Oops. I've said too much.

  • Scot

    This book won the 2011 Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2011 (Edgar Awards are given annually by the Mystery Writers of America). That means those in the business of writing mystery novels recognize the superior quality in this well crafted tale. I heartily concur.

    It jumps back and forth in time, and teaches us how to become an expert safecracker along the way. The narrator is a distinctive young man, Michael--something terrible happened to him when he was a child, before he came to live with his

    This book won the 2011 Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2011 (Edgar Awards are given annually by the Mystery Writers of America). That means those in the business of writing mystery novels recognize the superior quality in this well crafted tale. I heartily concur.

    It jumps back and forth in time, and teaches us how to become an expert safecracker along the way. The narrator is a distinctive young man, Michael--something terrible happened to him when he was a child, before he came to live with his Uncle Lito that runs the liquor store, and since then, he has never talked again. Michael has a gift for visual recall and a talent for drawing, so art helps him cope with many of the serious life challenges he confronts, steadfastly mute. He also has a fascination for opening locks, soon demonstrated as an incredible gift for breaking into safes. A loner teen who just wants to be accepted and maybe spend some time with the girl he secretly idolizes, his luck runs to extremes--both very bad and very good.

    This is a gritty crime novel and the coming of-age, loss-of-innocence story of a hard knocks teenager in the late 20th century. Con man strategies, burglary techniques, and how criminal networks back then used pagers are just a few of the many useful insights it offers while it speaks to more universal themes of abuse, loneliness, integrity, and love.

  • Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this,

    While reading this novel, I started thinking about literary devices, namely telling a story backwards: telling me who the culprit was but not who was killed and why, jumping back and forth, and then slowly explaining the details.

    What draw me in in the first place was not the protagonist, but the novel’s structure. Hamilton divided the narrative into chunks apparently without taking notice of events, but with an eye to narrative

    If you're into stuff like this,

    While reading this novel, I started thinking about literary devices, namely telling a story backwards: telling me who the culprit was but not who was killed and why, jumping back and forth, and then slowly explaining the details.

    What draw me in in the first place was not the protagonist, but the novel’s structure. Hamilton divided the narrative into chunks apparently without taking notice of events, but with an eye to narrative tension and dramatic effect. Off the top of my head I can't think of many other crime novels organized in this way. Nevertheless various narrative threads in this novel are pitch perfect, as well as being able to deepen the connection between structure, protagonist and subject matter (hopping between three timelines: present day, where Michael is reaching the end of his jail time, the series of events that led him to learn how to unlock a safe and his brief history as a professional safe cracker).

    You can read the rest of this review elsewhere.

  • Bill Khaemba

    Sometimes you just a fun book, one that will just entertain you regardless of the prose, writing style and all that jazz... I was in need for that so when I picked this up after reading so many sad stories it kind of got me in a happy mood. It was so fascinating and the plot was so cool that it seemed like I was watching a spy thriller movie.

    Sometimes you just a fun book, one that will just entertain you regardless of the prose, writing style and all that jazz... I was in need for that so when I picked this up after reading so many sad stories it kind of got me in a happy  mood. It was so fascinating and the plot was so cool that it seemed like I was watching a spy thriller movie.

     

     

    I was so impressed with our main protagonist, I normally don't like the main character in most YA books but this one was a gem. It was a strong voice and he was so vulnerable that I was so rooting for him all the way through. Yes, he made some not so smart decisions but he was just so special and once his past came to the light the story broke me and it took a very dark turn that I wasn't expecting.  The narrative flowed so well and it kept me interested & the way the author incorporated art in the story was impressive plus I just had fun with the book and It might not be for everyone but I highly recommend it to those who love cracking safes heist stories

  • Stephen

    is an

    , and 18 year old

    is a tumbler-aligning

    . Unfortunately, this

    has made him an extremely

    to some rather

    . Further complicating Michael's very

    is that he hasn’t

    a single word for more than

    , ever since he was

    by a singularly

    that he experienced at the tender age of 8.

    Michael’s journey in

    is told in the first person as he writes his story down in

    is an

    , and 18 year old

    is a tumbler-aligning

    . Unfortunately, this

    has made him an extremely

    to some rather

    . Further complicating Michael's very

    is that he hasn’t

    a single word for more than

    , ever since he was

    by a singularly

    that he experienced at the tender age of 8.

    Michael’s journey in

    is told in the first person as he writes his story down in prison, where he is serving time for…[uh, uh…no spoilers]. Michael’s story jumps around via multiple flashback threads, as he slowly unveils his history, his innerness, and the events that led him to his current state.

    Michael's two "unusual" personality quirks (i.e., his natural ability and his unnatural silence) make him a unique character in crime fiction, and the exploration of these two aspects was very impressive and stood out to me. Despite having read many books in which the skill of lock-picking is deployed, never had I seen the process explored in the detail in which it is rendered here. Michael’s sensual, almost sexual, descriptions of the process are mesmerizing. The sound of the tumblers, the subtle tensions of the springs, the feel of the serrated pins and the drug-like high of ultimately “breaking through”…simply superb.

    In addition, the revelation of

    that left our main character unable/unwilling to speak is exceedingly disturbing and intense. Hamilton does a wonderfully balanced job of conveying authenticity while depicting the unimaginable brutality of Michael’s past. His description of the day Michael’s life shattered has stained my long term memory, and I would anticipate similar reactions from most people reading it. It's just one of those

    events that don't come along often in reading.

    While the above two aspects were superb, the balance of the story is also good and certainly should please fans of the crime genre who are looking for something a little more character driven. The writing is good, the story has an authentic feel and there are some interesting supporting characters within the narrative’s population.

    So why only 3 stars?

    Well, it is really more like a strong 3.5 stars. I just couldn’t bring myself to give it four because, as good as the story it, I never really connected with the main character except for the portions of the book involving the lock picking and the tragedy. While a solid, well drawn character, Michael never truly pulled intensive his story, and that made for a bit of a distanced read. I didn’t have a huge stake in what happened to him at the end, and that removed some of the suspense and emotional resonance.

    Still, a good solid read with some very unusual and worth-while components.

    3.5 Stars. Recommended.

  • Barry

    The problem of expectations – expect too much and disappointment ruins the tale. The Lock Artist appears on number of recommended or “Best” Lists and the premise, a teen-aged elective mute safecracker, sounds intriguing. It promised to be as original as Jonathan Lethem’s tour-de-force Motherless Brooklyn. Alas, this is not Motherless Brooklyn.

    After a promising start, by cranking up the suspense by telling that our protagonist, Mike, suffered a traumatic event as a young child and was dubbed the

    The problem of expectations – expect too much and disappointment ruins the tale. The Lock Artist appears on number of recommended or “Best” Lists and the premise, a teen-aged elective mute safecracker, sounds intriguing. It promised to be as original as Jonathan Lethem’s tour-de-force Motherless Brooklyn. Alas, this is not Motherless Brooklyn.

    After a promising start, by cranking up the suspense by telling that our protagonist, Mike, suffered a traumatic event as a young child and was dubbed the “Miracle Boy”, an event so traumatic that he never spoke again and can’t tell us even now as he relates his history. The book in the first-person voice, an unusual voice for a novel. Promising indeed.

    But then it all falls apart – or more accurately devolves into a by-the-numbers coming-of-age story. I call it the “American Cinderella.” High-school kid from the wrong side of the tracks struggles with quiet dignity while loud, obnoxious jocks and mean girls poke fun at him. Of course the prettiest girl notices his substance and is infinitely patient of his failings. They share a common bond of art – both are gifted artists, naturally. These might sound like spoilers. They’re not, Hamilton telegraphs the clichés. To be fair to Hamilton, they’re such worn clichés, it’s hard not to telegraph them.

    He alternates chapters between Mike’s high school life and his present-day problems. It’s an effective device; it helps to sustain whatever suspense is left. The criminal gang can be seen on any run-of-the-mill cable TV movie, so there’s not much of a surprise when the heist finally happens.

    This book is a lost opportunity. The premise is good but it’s a shame that the story wasn’t as good. I’ve read one book of Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight series. This series is also highly praised. I must be immune to Hamilton’s charms because the book was merely adequate in my eyes. This is not to say that he’s a bad writer. I just don’t understand all the fuss.

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