Saturday, November 27, 2021

The Lock Artist



By Diane Bostick

Author: Steve Hamilton

Publisher: St. Martin’s Minotaur Books January 2010. Winner of the 2010 Edgar Award for Best Novel, the Alex Award and a New York Times Notable Crime Book of the Year.

When I was first asked to take over as book reviewer for the Coastal Breeze for the summer I figured it would be a simple enough thing to do. I was wrong. It is a lot harder than it looks. I first asked what the parameters for the books I was to review might be and was told they should be something written either this year or last. Again, how hard could that be? Turns out it is not nearly as simple as it seems. Just stop and think for a moment. How often do you read a book that you feel confident in suggesting others read? The very book that you think is fantastic and a “must read” might be the very book that others would put down after the first chapter and would only have gotten that far under threat of bodily harm. And that book that you would slit your wrists rather than read might be somebody else’s favorite of all time. It is all a very personal kind of thing. I am required to come up with a book review every two weeks and as a result I find I am looking at books in a whole new way. I have had to broaden my horizons and consider books for all types of readers, both male and female, lovers of fiction and non-fiction, love stories and mysteries and even westerns. It has been an eye opening and interesting experience. But, be assured, it is not as easy as it looks.

I read The Lock Artist several weeks ago and though I really enjoyed it I had no idea how to begin to review it for you. It has a very non-traditional layout in that the chapters jump back and forth over a period of quite a few years. It starts in the present time when Mike Smith, the main character in the book, is incarcerated in prison where he has been for the past nine years. The very next chapter goes back to when he cracks his first safe at the age of eighteen and the next even further back to when he was eight years old and something horrible occurred that prevented him from ever speaking another word, no matter what the provocation. We do not learn what that terrible thing is until almost three quarters of the way through the book. It is not a smooth transition from the earliest time in his life to the present, but instead keeps jumping back from one time to another, keeping you on your toes trying to figure out what happened when. He explains the reason for telling his story in this manner is that he doesn’t want you to think he’s trying to excuse himself by going right to the “sob story” first, nor does he want you to think he is some kind of born criminal if he jumps right in with the “hard core stuff.”

All this is fairly clearly explained in the first chapter. In chapter two we get a taste of his first job as a “boxman” at the age of eighteen. A “boxman” is a person who opens safes without knowing the combination ahead of time. He goes into quite some detail of his whole first safe cracking job and in such a way that you get a pretty clear idea of how he goes about doing what he does and who he does it with. He is far from alone in his endeavors. And they are very much a part of the whole mystery.

In chapter three we meet him again at the age of nine, after the “horrible thing” has occurred causing him to be mute, when he has been placed by the state of Michigan with his uncle Lito, a liquor store owner. For the next five years he was sent to a special school to learn American Sign Language and had an untold number of therapists and psychologists try to learn why he wouldn’t talk. Finally they gave up and sent him back to live with his uncle. And this is when the story of his life as a safe cracker and lock breaker begins. He took an old lock out of the trash his uncle had thrown away and began to study it. He quickly learned how it worked and how to open it without a key. He became so fascinated that he went to an antique store on the block and bought more locks. He quickly learned how to open them, too, and in the process made a nice little set of lock breaking tools and thus began his life-long obsession with opening locks and safes.

Through the whole book we are given teasers that keep us reading. Who is Amelia and what does she mean to him? Who is the Ghost and what hold does he have over Mike? Who owns the five color- coded pagers he has been given in a shoe box to which he must immediately respond whenever they go off? And each time one goes off we read of another heist in which he takes part. What is the horrible thing that happened to him as a young child that caused him not to speak and will he ever speak again?

I think you can see why this book is hard to review, but it is a fascinating book with, believe it or not, an endearing main character and is well worth reading.

Steve Hamilton has written eight other novels.

Diane Bostick has lived on Marco Island since 1987. She was the Founder and President of Ft. Myers chapter of the Association of Children with Learning Disabilities, President of Jr. Welfare League, Ft. Myers Chapter, and served on the board of Art League of Marco Island. She is an avid reader, fly fisherwoman, tennis player and crafter.

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