Steve Hamilton is known primarily for his award-winning Alex McKnight series. His previous novel, NIGHT WORK, was a stand-alone title that demonstrated he was not reticent to operate outside of his comfort zone. THE LOCK ARTIST is so different from anything he has done before that it shares little with his prior work, other than those elements that are most important: memorable characters, razor-sharp suspense and an unforgettable storyline.
The novel begins in the present and then focuses primarily on two separate periods in late 1999 and early 2000 before describing an important vignette in 1990 and finally coming back to the present. This narrative form is difficult at first, but is important to the telling of Michael’s story. When we meet Michael in the present, he is in prison. We do not find out the reason for his incarceration until the very end of the book; what we do discover is that he suffered a traumatic event in his early childhood (which also is not revealed until the final 60 pages or so), which has left him unable to speak. We also learn that he has developed two very important talents. I will let you discover one of them on your own when you read this fine story; the other is an ability to pick locks.
It is the latter talent that drives THE LOCK ARTIST and leads him down a road of bad companions, wrong people, users and losers. There are only two people who seem to truly care about Michael: his uncle, an understated character who takes him in after the childhood trauma he experiences, and Amelia, a young woman who he meets as the result of a bad act. Amelia and Michael soon find themselves the salvation of the other --- Michael for Amelia in a more ironic, tragic way, though Amelia gives Michael a reason to live, which is every bit as compelling. It is Michael’s love for Amelia, however, that ultimately puts him in terrible danger, even as his actions end up keeping her safe.
Hamilton is full of surprises. Even during the early pages of the book, I often wondered when I was away from the story where it would be going and how it would wind up; or, to be more precise, how it had reached the state of affairs with which it begins. This is not an easy trick to perform, but Hamilton does it with aplomb. As good as his eight novels have been --- and, awards notwithstanding, I think he is underappreciated in relation to the depth of his talent --- THE LOCK ARTIST demonstrates that Hamilton has much more with which to dazzle his readership in the years ahead.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 5, 2010