Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Edgar Awards and a Book Review: The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

     The Mystery Writers of America, founded in 1945, annually presents the Edgar Awards for mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, film and theater published or produced in the previous year.  The nominees are always announced on January 19, the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe is generally recognized as the “father” of the mystery novel.    Today is the 203rd anniversary of the birth of Poe and the announcements of all of the Edgar nominees are included here: (2012 Edgar Nominations).   The Edgar nominees for the Best Mystery novel of 2011 are:

-          The Ranger by Ace Atkins
-          The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
-          1222 by Anne Holt
-          Gone by Mo Hayder
-          Field Gray by Philip Kerr

     To celebrate the announcement of this year’s nominees, here is a review of the 2011 winner: The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton.  This review was previously published in “The LamLight”, the physician newsletter of the Lynchburg Academy of Medicine.

 The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

This novel is a truly unique and intriguing read.  The story is narrated in the first person by the main character, a young adult named Michael.  Michael suffers a major psychological trauma as an eight year old which leaves him literally speechless.  This trauma is alluded to early on and is revealed in detail at the conclusion of the story, a riveting chapter which ties up all of the plot’s loose ends.
We meet Mike as a struggling junior in a large high school in a town about forty miles from Detroit.  He has not spoken a word since age 8 and is seen as the class freak.  He is a very accomplished art student and can sketch in great detail.  He is living with an uncle who owns a liquor store.  Quite by chance, he learns that he is very good at picking locks.  He finds some old locks in an antique store and becomes fascinated by their mechanism, eventually teaching himself how to open any lock, including combination locks.  His skill is discovered by some of the more popular students in his school who recruit him to participate in a prank – breaking into the home of a rival school’s star football player and leaving a derogatory sign in the student’s bedroom.  Vandalism occurs, the police arrive, the perpetrators scatter and the only one apprehended is Michael.  He refuses to reveal the other students involved and a probation/restitution deal is worked out.  Michael has to work the entire summer for the well-to-do homeowner who was victimized by the vandalism.  He is a sadistic sort and has Michael dig a pool in his backyard using only a small shovel.  Michael becomes enamored with the man’s daughter who is also very artistic and a love affair ensues. 
The homeowner is in some economic difficulties, owes money to the mob and sees Michael as a possible solution to his problems.  He involves Michael with these criminals and the rest of Michael’s story is a series of break-ins where his safe-cracking abilities are well utilized.  The story of Michael’s criminal life is interwoven with the story of how he was introduced to this life in a very intricate but effective way.
The tragedy which caused Michael’s communication issues is revealed in a very innovative way at the end of the book.  Between assignments for the mob, Michael tracks down his former girlfriend who is now attending the University of Michigan.  They return to Michael’s childhood home which is now abandoned and together they draw a huge mural which depicts the events leading to Michael’s issues.
The Lock Artist is very entertaining.  It is told in the first person by the mute main character as a memoir which he is writing from jail.  The plot moves forward at a constant but not a rushed pace and switches back and forth between Michael’s life of crime as a young adult and his adolescence..  The writing is very engaging; the author even makes all of the details about the construction and design of different types of locks interesting.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it highly.

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