Book Review: The Lock Artist

The Lock Artist
Published By: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 1, 2011
Page Count: 339
Source: Library (Audiobook)
Audience: Mature Young Adult - Fiction

You know how sometimes you read a book that you'd never pick up on your own, but a friend strong-armed you into reading it? And then you're caught off guard when you absolutely LOVE it? I hope that The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton becomes that book for you, because it was for me. The only difference between my hypothetical scenario and reality is that my "friend" was the American Library Association's annual Alex Awards which "are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults," not an actual friend.

Michael is an 18-year-old who has a gift; he can open pretty much anything with a lock. Bike locks, padlocks, combination locks, key locks, safes, gym lockers - if it locks, he can open it. While Michael uses his lock picking abilities as a way to pass the time, once other people find out about his talent, they realize he is a commodity. But his "special gift" isn't the most interesting, or odd, thing about him. Michael hasn't spoken since he was eight years old; he hasn't uttered a word since the night both of his parents died which has earned him the nickname "The Miracle Boy."

There is little else I can tell you about The Lock Artist without giving away some minor and major plot points. I can tell you that Hamilton writes his main character with an incredible voice. And yes, I know saying that about a character that doesn't speak is sort of ironic, but it's true. Michael speaks directly to the reader and recounts the events leading up to his current predicament, which involves a prison cell and an orange jumpsuit, and is a believable and consistent character from the first few lines of the story to the final chapter. You root for him. You yell at him. You want good things for him. And most of all, you desperately want to know what happened to him that day back when he was eight years old. (You find out eventually, and even after reading 3/4th of the book with a huge build up of the mystery surrounding it, I was both surprised and immediately satisfied.)

And Michael isn't the only good thing about this book - his friends, relatives, and (ahem) business associates are varied and interesting and real. I loved Julian and Ramona and even the token sassy-but-damaged teenage girl is more complex than she initially appears to be. And the sequencing! I loved the way Hamilton played with time and sequence to keep the pacing fresh, interesting, and it never let the story get too heavy with the crime/first love/trauma details. Just when I was ready for a break from Lock Picking 101, the story went back to when Michael was 10. And when I was ready for something other than the teenage, angst-filled romance, it was time for slick criminal Mike to take over. Truly, this may be a crime/suspense novel, but in my opinion it is completely character driven.

Like I said in the beginning, based on the back-of-book description this is 100% not something I'd have ever picked up on my own, but I am SO glad I did. Now I'm looking forward to reading a few more of the Alex Award winners I have in my Goodreads list! And, if you're into that kind of thing, The Lock Artist also won an Edgar Award (presented by Mystery Writers of America) for Best Novel in 2011.

Final Word: If you enjoy great storytelling, rich characters, and the occasional "Wow, I didn't see THAT coming!" moment that makes complete and total sense once you think about it, read this book. Also, the audiobook version is fan-freaking-tastic - I can't recommend it enough!


I was the Miracle Boy, once upon a time. Later on, the Milford Mute. The Golden Boy. The Young Ghost. The Kid. The Boxman. The Lock Artist. That was all me.

But you can call me Mike."

Marked by tragedy, traumatized at the age of eight, Michael, now eighteen, is no ordinary young man. Besides not uttering a single word in ten years, he discovers the one thing he can somehow do better than anyone else. Whether it's a locked door without a key, a padlock with no combination, or even an eight-hundred pound safe ... he can open them all.  It's an unforgivable talent. A talent that will make young Michael a hot commodity with the wrong people and, whether he likes it or not, push him ever close to a life of crime. Until he finally sees his chance to escape, and with one desperate gamble risks everything to come back home to the only person he ever loved, and to unlock the secret that has kept him silent for so long.

Steve Hamilton steps away from his Edgar Award-winning Alex McKnight series to introduce a unique new character, unlike anyone you've ever seen in the world of crime fiction.


  1. I'm unfamiliar with this one, but I pay attention to the Alex awards, and after your review, I think I'll pay attention to this book! Thanks!

  2. I read this one when it came out, thought it was unique, this is my genre of choice, thought it was good.

  3. Wow, it's always so exciting when a book surprises you that way! It sounds like a great book and makes me think I need to find more people who will strong-arm me into reading books they love :-P Thanks for the great review!

  4. this book has left me intrigued…. need read, to my Wish Lists

    1. I really did love this one. I've given it to several students (and teachers) to read and they've all loved it. One kid told me she got in trouble at home for reading too much...she couldn't put it down and was reading when she was supposed to be in bed sleeping. ;)

  5. Nice review. this generally isnt what I read, but sounds intriguing.

    1. Heather - It wasn't my usual fare either but I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. Give it a chance, it might surprise you. :)

  6. Ohhh! This sounds interesting!

    1. I think the reason this book isn't getting more attention is that the premise sounds so weird when shortened onto a book jacket. It needs a longer explanation to really grab someone's attention. I was so glad I picked it up!

  7. I've heard a lot about this!! Sounds like I might need to pick it up in the near future :)


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