“A wise old owl sat on an oak; The more he saw the less he spoke; The less he spoke the more he heard; Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?”
This quotation could be the premise for the novel!
Have you ever been having a conversation with someone and found that they are not really listening to you? They are instead waiting for you to stop speaking so that they can speak? Listening is a lost art. It is only one of the ‘arts’ that the protagonist of “The Lock Artist” practices with skill.
Michael is mute. His muteness is a result of a trauma he experienced when he was just eight years old and is a psychological condition rather than a physical one. The ten years since then have held much unhappiness for Michael. He was sent to live with a caring uncle, but this uncle had little to no child-rearing skills. He only ever really had one friend in school. He was a loner who immersed himself in his art. He loves to draw and finds his talent lends itself to a graphic novel style where he tells a story through frames of art with conversation ‘bubbles’ added.
Michael practices another art. He is a lock artist. He can open just about any lock and decipher the combination of any safe. He has had years of practice and his talent for listening has helped him hone his skill. However this talent of Michael’s attracts the wrong sort of people. People who want to use him for illegal ventures.
As a high school senior, Michael is goaded into breaking into the home of another high school student to abet a high school rivalry. When he is in the house he finds an art portfolio of the girl who lives there. He appreciates her talent and finds himself intrigued by her. The worst of course happens and Michael is caught. Unwilling to name his fellows in crime, he is sentenced to do work for the man who’s home he broke into. This man is the girl’s father and Michael sees this as both a way of atoning for his crime and a way to meet and get to know the daughter, Amelia.
After many hours of back-breaking labor, digging a hole for a swimming pool, Michael and Amelia find that they are attracted to one another. Both artists, they use their art to communicate with each other and they constantly exchange graphic panels.
Amelia’s father is heavily in debt and once he finds out about Michael’s talent with locks he enlists him to do favors for certain people who will use Michael’s expertise as a trade-off for some of the debt owed. This is the beginning of a long and slippery downward slope for Mike.
Essentially Michael is an antihero. A good guy who is only partially at fault for how his life turned. A criminal, but one that as a reader you can still like and root for his success. Set in urban Michigan, the novel has a grim and rather colorless setting which works perfectly with Michael, his situation and his regrets.
This is the first novel I have read by Steve Hamilton, but it won’t be the last. “The Lock Artist” has a truly original plot with a protagonist that won’t be easy to forget. Different from the standard thriller and written in a way that perfectly captured the loneliness and desperation of the protagonist while maintaining an element of suspense throughout, this is novel that I would recommend to readers of the genre.