Thursday, October 08, 2020

Fiction Review: The Lock Artist

Last year, I gave my husband The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton, which won the 2011 Edgar Award for Best Novel (and also a 2011 Alex Award for its appeal to teen and young adult readers). He really enjoyed it, so--like most of the books I give him as gifts--I wanted to read it, too! It's easy to see why this original, suspenseful, clever novel won those awards.

Michael begins telling us his story from prison, referencing a mysterious and notorious childhood trauma and a life of crime. In the rest of the novel, he moves back and forth from his childhood to his difficult teen years to his criminal dealings that began at the age of just seventeen. That trauma occurred when Mike was just eight years old, so he went to live with an uncle he didn't know in a small town in Michigan. As a result of the unnamed ordeal, Mike didn't speak-- at all. Early on, he discovered a talent for unlocking any lock or door and used his allowance to buy old locks from the pawn shop to practice on, just for fun. As a teen, he attended the local high school, but his disability made him an outcast and a freak ... until he discovered art class. Mike was amazingly talented in making super-realistic drawings, which later led to a fascination with comics and graphic novels. He even made a friend in art class, so life wasn't so bad for a while. But in the summer before his senior year, his lock-picking skills got him pulled into a prank, which led to a far more dangerous world. By seventeen years old, he was riding the old motorcycle his uncle gave him to New York City to begin a life of crime, leaving behind everything and everyone he cared about in order to protect them.

The novel slowly weaves Mike's story together, with threads from his childhood, teen years, and criminal life gradually merging into a cohesive whole of cause-and-effect. The reader is only slowly, teasingly given the pieces to fit together, including that childhood trauma that began his lifelong trajectory. It's a slow, intriguing process that kept me riveted to the pages, and Mike is an interesting and sympathetic character who I was rooting for (even though I knew from the first page that he ended up in prison). It's a complex puzzle loaded with fascinating plot details, as Mike learns the fine art of safecracking and gets involved with crews planning elaborate heists. Although it's not a typical formulaic action-packed thriller, the story has plenty of tense moments and suspense. It's a unique and compelling novel that kept me reading too late each night, and I enjoyed getting to know Mike.

304 pages, Minotaur Books

Brilliance Audio

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here and/or download it from Audible. The sample is from the opening chapter, where Michael begins his story from prison, talking about the infamous incident of his childhood.


You can purchase The Lock Artist from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:

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Or you can order The Lock Artist from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. When an author can make you sympathize with their character, even though s/he might not be so lovable, I feel they've done their job well.

    1. Absolutely! And you want to root for this kid - he's had a tough life.