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 Where Things Come Back. 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 ALA Alex Award 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.