The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton I didn’t know that once you’ve proven yourself useful to the wrong people, you’ll never be free again. – Michael Smith

In the wake of a horrific night of violence that leaves him without his parents or his voice, eight year-old Michael Smith finds comfort in drawing and playing with locks.

Though he has a natural talent for drawing, it soon becomes clear he has a preternatural talent for opening locks. At first just working with old combination padlocks, Michael eventually graduates to opening key locks with his own crude, homemade lock pick set.

It’s a talent that seventeen year-old Michael never considers the potential implications of until a high school prank gone wrong puts him in the position to meet the wrong people, and from that point on his life will never be the same.

Presented as the reflections of a 26 year-old Michael who has landed in jail and is contemplating the life that got him there, The Lock Artist is told in chapters that alternate between the distant past that set him on the path to becoming a safecracker and the job gone awry that led to his incarceration.

The two narratives unfold on slowly converging paths before ultimately colliding in a final reveal of the shocking night of events that stole both Michael’s parents and his voice from him.

Initially you may not think the technical details of lock picking and safe cracking would be that interesting, but Hamilton presents the process in such vivid, fascinating detail it makes Michael’s discovery of his talents come alive:

[Uncle Lito] had already bought the new lock, so there was nothing else to do with the old one except to keep playing around with it, to watch how the key went inside and how it pushed up each pin exactly the right amount and no farther. Then, finally, the really interesting part. The absolutely most fascinating and satisfying part of all, how I could put a little bit of tension on that cylinder with something as simple as a paper clip, and then with a thin piece of metal I had taken from the edge of a ruler, say, how I could push up each pin, one by one, letting the tension keep them in place as I moved on to the next, until finally all five pins were lined up perfectly. How the lock, without the use of a key, would then slide smoothly and magically open.

By the time you finish The Lock Artist Hamilton will have you so engrossed in the process of how locks work you’ll be digging out your old gym padlock, convinced you can open it by feel.

Part part crime caper, part coming of age story, The Lock Artist is truly something special. It’s a testament to Hamilton’s command of storytelling that he has created in Michael, a man who doesn’t speak, one of the most unique voices in recent crime fiction.

Steve Hamilton is the author of the Edgar and Shamus award winning Alex McKnight series. The Lock Artist is Hamilton’s second stand alone novel, following Night Work. To learn more about Steve, visit his website.

The Lock Artist was one of my Top 10 Reads of 2010


  • Elizabeth A. White

    August 1, 2010 - 9:17 AM

    Thank you, Michael.

  • le0pard13

    July 20, 2010 - 4:04 PM

    It’s a great story done well. I listened to the audiobook of this early in the year. MacLeod Andrews was the reader, and he did an exceptional job voicing all of the characters. I’d recommend it, in either form, to friends. Great review. Thanks, Elizabeth.

  • Charles Wingfield

    July 20, 2010 - 12:18 PM

    This sounds like a really interesting book. Very refreshingly different plot! That passage you included, after reading it, it did make me want to start fooling around with locks! lol