Tuesday, April 19, 2016


THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton (Orion, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Taunted as a freak because he was unable to speak, school is a nightmare for Michael until he discovers that he has a special talent that makes people sit up and take notice: he can open locks. But breaking into the house of a rival school's quarterback lands him in hot water, and he soon finds himself on a downward trajectory.

Michigan author Steve Hamilton steps away from his Alex McKnight series with this Edgar Award-winning standalone (that also won the CWA Steel Dagger and Barry Awards). Centred on Michael, who has been mute since surviving a terrible accident as a child, it's an intriguing tale that is a pretty fascinating character study of a unique young man with talent and troubles, as well as providing plenty of thrills and chills as the plot unfolds.

After the accident that took his parents and rendered him mute, school becomes unbearable for Michael, until he discovers he has an eye-catching skill; he can open locks with ease. A teenage prank gone wrong, burglarising a rival quarterback’s house, brings him into contact with a man, and his daughter, who will end up changing his life. Perhaps not for the better, as he has to graduate to safe cracking and put his skills to use to save the daughter, under threat thanks to the father’s debts.

The narrative of THE LOCK ARTIST switches between two key time periods in Michael's life, with Hamilton building the tension well as we roll along. It's a very interesting, intriguing story, although occasionally I felt that I admired the tale more than feeling totally connected and drawn fully into it. Michael is a fascinating character, a troubled young man who's seen a lot in his life - far beyond his years, and Hamilton certainly delves deep into his unique view and experiences of the world. I definitely felt that the reader was brought fully into Michael's world, the way he looks at things.

THE LOCK ARTIST flows very well, even as it blends crime with elements more akin to a coming of age tale and a love story. Michael is a young man trying to get out from under his tough life, wanting nothing more than a fresh start with a girl he adores. It's a unique crime tale, and I can see why it attracted a lot of acclaim from award judges. A very good book.

I read and really enjoyed this book when it was originally released in 2011. At the time I wrote a short review for the Herald on Sunday. This is an extended review based upon my notes from the time and further thoughts. 

Craig Sisterson is a journalist from New Zealand who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed 150 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson 

1 comment:

  1. I remember enjoying this one when it came out, there was something unique about it.