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The Lock Artist
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The Lock Artist

4.3 117
by Steve Hamilton

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"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


"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.

The Lock Artist is the winner of the 2011 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“This one is too good for words.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Hamilton … understands what's truly scary, what's truly suspenseful.” —The Washington Post

The Lock Artist is superior in every way: intriguing, carefully crafted characters and a devious plot, all told in the haunting voice of a young man who has no voice. Just for spice, there's a really good love story, too. . . . Hamilton slowly builds this story in layers, using time as a device of suspense and never losing the threads. How and why Mike ended up in jail is only a small part of this incredibly clever novel.” —The Globe and Mail

“Mike is one of those unreliable narrators you can't help rooting for-- a traumatized soul fighting his way back from the brink-- and the mystery of his silence will have you blazing through pages. A smart, inventive thriller, The Lock Artist is packed with a standout cast of characters, plus enough safe-cracking trade secrets to tempt you to dig up that old combination lock and test your newfound knowledge.” —Louisville Courier Journal

“An enthralling read . . . Michael [is] an utterly believable and thoroughly captivating character . . . The Lock Artist is a terrific coming-of-age tale and a great crime novel all wrapped in one, with a liberal sprinkling of romance and teenage rebellion to boot.” —San Francisco Book Review

“Fascinating, with enough bits of high-voltage action to keep the pulse pounding.” —Houston Chronicle

“The unconventional The Lock Artist surpasses even Hamilton's high standards. . . . Hamilton delves deeply into Mike's psyche, saving the tragedy that propelled him to silence until near the end. When the story of why Mike cannot speak is revealed, it is a devastating moment and Hamilton knows how to draw out all the emotional impact.” —Florida Sun-Sentinel

The Lock Artist is far more than a suspenseful heist caper. It's the story of a boy emerging into his own life… The talent Steve Hamilton has developed over the course of the Alex McKnight series is in full bloom here in this daring and deeply satisfying novel.” —Reviewing the Evidence

“Propelled by an aching desire to recover his voice, [protagonist] Mike has brushes with the law, flirts with romance and makes alliances with criminals, from rank amateurs to consummate professionals. Along the way, Hamilton drops tantalizing clues about Mike's troubled past and his uncertain future. Readers will hope to hear more from Mike.” —Publishers Weekly

“Sharp prose and a strong cast.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Intense and involving.” —Booklist

“Hamilton has a knack for weaving a complicated web of intrigue and irony and a knack for hoisting the system on its own petard.” —Chronogram Magazine

“Hamilton maintains a seamless narrative of escalating suspense as he juggles alternating adolescent and late-teen storylines that merge in the revelation of Mike's brutal secret. With this absorbing coming-of-age tale scarred by horror and adversity, the New York author breathes new life into the oldest chestnut of all, the redemptive power of love.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“Hypnotic ... a proven master of suspense moves in a brand new direction - and the result is can't-put-it-down spectacular.” —Lee Child

“I haven't read a book this captivating in a long time. The Lock Artist is gutsy, genuine and, flat out, a great read. You won't be disappointed.” —Michael Connelly

“Hamilton's prose . . . remains an unself-consciously terse pleasure.” —Entertainment Weekly on Blood Is the Sky

“Steve Hamilton writes the kind of stories that manly men and tough-minded women can't resist.” —The New York Times on North of Nowhere

A Stolen Season is one of those mysteries that lulls readers into a sense of security, but nothing is certain here.” —Washington Post Book World on A Stolen Season

Ice Run turns on edge-of-the-seat psychological suspense that Hamilton has honed to precision.” —Florida Sun-Sentinel on Ice Run

“Hamilton's prose moves us smoothly along and his characters are marvelously real.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) on The Hunting Wind

Marilyn Stasio
The enthralling narrative voice you hear in Steve Hamilton's imaginative crime novel…wants you to know…he's telling this story in order to find his voice because he stopped speaking years ago, in 1990, when he was 8 years old…As coming-of-age novels go, this one is too good for words.
—The New York Times
Fiona Zublin
Hamilton…understands what's truly scary, what's truly suspenseful…While the structure of the book seems at first as simple as its aggressively unstylish prose, it shifts quickly from a teenage love story to a heist-gone-wrong. The racing conclusion feels inevitable but entirely fresh.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
At the start of this offbeat thriller from Edgar-winner Hamilton (A Stolen Season and six other titles in the Alex McKnight PI series), the book’s intriguing narrator, Mike (aka the Golden Boy, the Young Ghost, the Lock Artist, etc.), confesses that a traumatic experience at age eight left him unable to speak and that he has been in prison for nine years. His strange odyssey, which hops around in time, takes Mike and his twin talents, art and lock breaking, from his Michigan home to both coasts while in thrall to a mysterious man in Detroit whom he doesn’t dare cross. Propelled by an aching desire to recover his voice, Mike has brushes with the law, flirts with romance and makes alliances with criminals, from rank amateurs to consummate professionals. Along the way, Hamilton drops tantalizing clues about Mike’s troubled past and his uncertain future. Readers will hope to hear more from Mike. 75,000 first printing; author tour. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
A traumatized boy grows into a world-class safecracker. Every gangster knows that a boxman is the guy who opens boxes (safes) with precious things in them. Michael Smith's acquaintances know that he's an artist among boxmen, someone who, like more conventional artists, is at a loss to explicate the mysteries-partly because he doesn't talk. When he was eight, Michael states on the first page, a headline-grabbing horror changed his life forever, setting him on his less-traveled path. He still can't tell us about it, "but maybe one of these days as I'm writing, I'll get to . . . that day in June of 1990." Nine years later, however, 17-year-old Michael suddenly realizes that he can unlock just about anything. This skill, of course, makes him valuable to a wide range of no-goods, some of them just greedy, others downright predatory. But it also brings him to Amelia, with whom he falls irrevocably in love. In order to protect her from dangers more imagined than real, hopelessly romantic Michael is drawn into a multimillion-dollar con game as deadly as it is elaborate. Isolated, deeply enmeshed and mind-numbingly scared, Michael will be hard-pressed to feel his way toward solving a perilous, no-exit, locked-box mystery. Readers may tire of lock lore a bit earlier than Hamilton (Night Work, 2007, etc.), but sharp prose and a strong cast should keep them in line. First printing of 75,000

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St. Martin's Press
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5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
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Read an Excerpt


Locked Up Tight for Another Day

You may remember me. Think back. The summer of 1990. I know that’s a while ago, but the wire services picked up the story and I was in every newspaper in the country. Even if you didn’t read the story, you probably heard about me. From one of your neighbors, somebody you worked with, or if you’re younger, from somebody at school. They called me "the Miracle Boy." A few other names, too, names thought up by copy editors or newscasters trying to outdo one another. I saw "Boy Wonder" in one of the old clippings. "Terror Tyke," that was another one, even though I was eight years old at the time. But it was the Miracle Boy that stuck.

I stayed in the news for two or three days, but even when the cameras and the reporters moved on to something else, mine was the kind of story that stuck with you. You felt bad for me. How could you not? If you had young kids of your own back then, you held them a little tighter. If you were a kid yourself, you didn’t sleep right for a week.

In the end, all you could do was wish me well. You hoped that I had found a new life somewhere. You hoped that because I was so young, somehow this would have protected me, made it not so horrible. That I’d be able to get over it, maybe even put the whole thing behind me. Children being so adaptable and flexible and durable, in ways that adults could never be. That whole business. It’s what you hoped, anyway, if you even took the time to think about me the real person and not just the young face in the news story.

People sent me cards and letters back then. A few of them had drawings made by children. Wishing me well. Wishing me a happy future. Some people even tried to visit me at my new home. Apparently, they’d come looking for me in Milford, Michigan, thinking they could just stop anybody on the street and ask where to find me. For what reason, exactly? I guess they thought I must have some kind of special powers to have lived through that day in June. What those powers might be, or what these people thought I could do for them, I couldn’t even imagine.

In the years since then, what happened? I grew up. I came to believe in love at first sight. I tried my hand at a few things, and if I was any good at it, that meant it had to be either totally useless or else totally against the law. That goes a long way toward explaining why I’m wearing this stylish orange jumpsuit right now, and why I’ve been wearing it every single day for the past nine years.

I don’t think it’s doing me any good to be here. Me or anybody else. It’s kind of ironic, though, that the worst thing I ever did, on paper at least, was the one thing I don’t regret. Not at all.

In the meantime, as long as I’m here, I figure what the hell, I’ll take a look back at everything. I’ll write it all down. Which, if I’m going to do it, is really the only way I can tell the story. I have no other choice, because as you may or may not know, in all the things I’ve done in the past years, there’s one particular thing I haven’t done. I haven’t spoken one single word out loud.

That’s a whole story in itself, of course. This thing that has kept me silent for all of these years. Locked up here inside me, ever since that day. I cannot let go of it. So I cannot speak. I cannot make a sound.

Here, though, on the page . . . it can be like we’re sitting together at a bar somewhere, just you and me, having a long talk. Yeah, I like that. You and me sitting at a bar, just talking. Or rather me talking and you listening. What a switch that would be. I mean, you’d really be listening. Because I’ve noticed how most people don’t know how to listen. Believe me. Most of the time they’re just waiting for the other person to shut up so they can start talking again. But you . . . hell, you’re just as good a listener as I am. You’re sitting there, hanging on every word I say. When I get to the bad parts, you hang in there with me and you let me get it out. You don’t judge me right off the bat. I’m not saying you’re going to forgive everything. I sure as hell don’t forgive it all myself. But at least you’ll be willing to hear me out, and in the end to try to understand me. That’s all I can ask, right?

Problem is, where do I begin? If I go right to the sob story, it’ll feel like I’m already trying to excuse everything I did. If I go to the hardcore stuff first, you’ll think I’m some sort of born criminal. You’ll write me off before I get the chance to make my case.

So maybe I’ll kind of skip around, if you don’t mind. How the first real jobs I was involved with went down. How it felt to be growing up as the Miracle Boy. How it all came together that one summer. How I met Amelia. How I found my unforgivable talent. How I got myself heading down the wrong road. Maybe you’ll look at that and decide that I didn’t have much choice. Maybe you’ll decide that you would have done exactly the same thing.

The one thing I can’t do is start off on that day in June of 1990. I can’t go there yet. No matter how hard other people have tried to convince me, and believe me, there were a lot of them and they tried pretty damned hard . . . I can’t start there because I already feel claustrophobic enough in here. Some days it’s all I can do to keep breathing. But maybe one of these days as I’m writing, I’ll get to it and I’ll think to myself, okay, today’s the day. Today you can face it. No warm-up needed. Just go back to that day and let it fly. You’re eight years old. You hear the sound outside the door. And—

Damn, this is even harder than I thought.

I had to take a little break, get up and walk around a little bit, which around here isn’t very far. I left the cell and walked down through the common area, used the main bathroom and brushed my teeth. There was a new guy in there, someone who doesn’t know anything about me yet. When he said hey to me, I knew I had to be careful. Not answering people might be considered rude on the outside. In here, it could be taken as disrespect. If I were in a really bad place, I’d probably be dead by now. Even in here, in this place, it’s a constant challenge for me.

I did what I usually do. Two fingers of my right hand pointing to my throat, then a slashing motion. No words coming out of here, pal. No disrespect intended. I obviously made it back alive because I’m still writing.

So hang on, because this is my story if you’re ready for it. 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.

Excerpted from The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton.

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Hamilton.

Published in January 2010 by Minotaur Books.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

STEVE HAMILTON's first novel, A Cold Day in Paradise, won the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin's Press Best First Private Eye Novel Contest before becoming a USA Today Bestseller and winning both an Edgar and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel. His standalone novel The Lock Artist was named a New York Times Notable Book, was given an Alex Award by the American Library Association, and then went on to win the Edgar Award for Best Novel, making Steve Hamilton only the second author (after Ross Thomas) to win Edgars for both Best First Novel and Best Novel. He attended the University of Michigan, where he won the prestigious Hopwood Award for writing, and now he lives in Cottekill, New York with his wife and their two children.

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The Lock Artist 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 117 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book! I loved it!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story is told with a number of flashbacks about a young man who learns to open all kinds of locks and safes. There is some horrible event in his past that took away his ability to speak. As he learns about more complicated locks and is sucked into crime, he meets a young woman and fall in love. Between mistakes by his criminal employers and a persistent FBI agent following him, it is in doubt if he will have a chance to understand his past and build a relationship with the young woman. Described this way, it sounds like a mixed up plot, but Hamilton makes it work well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book far more than I expected. I hate to provide too much detail about what I enjoyed because there's always uncertainty in a good story's narrative arc and you don't want to ruin the next readers sense of suspense. I read between 10-15 novels/year and this is my favorite over the past 18 months.
mgolden More than 1 year ago
This is a book that I grew to love. I thought it was a bit slow in the beginning, not really catching my attention but after I hit a certain point I had to know what happens next: How he ended up where he did, what horrible event caused him to never speak again and of course everything Amelia! The book kept me guessing. I thought I figured it out and where it was going but I was so very wrong. I was revoltingly pleased with the ending. The author played with my emotions on this one. Well written, great read. I recommend to all.
BKR53 More than 1 year ago
A childhood trauma, central to the story in all ways, keeps the the pages turning just as fast as you can read them. I'm usually apprehensive when it comes to reading stand-alone novels by an author of a critically acclaimed series, especially one I enjoy so much. In this case the Alex Mcknight stories. But no worries here, as Steve Hamilton has written an altogether original and engaging book about a young man trying to find his way in life. The trials and travails the protagonist Michael endures would daunt most, yet he faces them without the ability to speak a single word, a condition caused by the tragedy of his childhood. There are thugs and evil-doers who all want a piece of michael by way of coercing his almost magical talents of picking locks and cracking safes. His only weapons against these people are his love of a young woman and his natural gift of drawing. On the surface,the circumstances of the story The Lock Artist sound a bit odd, but in reality they only serve to demonstrate Mr. Hamilton's talent as he has seamlessly woven together a believable and captivating tale that's hard to put down.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Although he is silent and has been mute since a traumatic incident back in 1990 when he was eight, Mike Smith has become the "Golden Boy" box man as he can open any safe. He realized his skill as a proficient box man when he was seventeen years old. Since his ability as the Lock Artist of choice he has been in demand by criminals who need his talent. Mike has spent nine years in prison for his artistic safe breaking skills. However even as his prime client in Detroit must never be angered or else, Mike meets and falls in love with Amelia. A throwback to a gentler romantic time, Mike vows to keep his beloved safe from perils he imagines that lead him into a deadly multimillion-dollar con that requires him to escape a locked box murder. As Alex McKnight takes a winter's break, fans will enjoy Mike Smith's biographical fictional mystery; as he relates his tale to an enthralled audience. The story line is fast-paced especially after Mike moves past lock breaking 101 and 102 as the antihero begins to get into deep trouble with his mob peers after falling in love. Fans will relish his escapades as ironically he must extract himself from a locked "box" mystery. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good, different than anything I've read. Hope to hear more from this character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow. Just, wow. One of the more singular characters I can remember. Excellent job of weaving back story and current thoughts. Well worth the read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hard to put down. Unusual story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worth reading just to enjoy how well the author can put himself in the head of a boxman who lacks the ability to speak. I started this with no expectations and was more than pleasantly surprised.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A unique and smart story. Not his recurring character but a compelling and original main character nonetheless. If you're a fan of SH, you'll like it.
joanneAZ More than 1 year ago
not one of steve hamilton's best....could not get into it...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Held my attention. Easy reader and a memorable character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazong. Keeps you hooked
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first it was a little slow, but as soon as the first job, i couldn't put the book down. I love how interesting Mike is; how he is a selective mute. This adds so much curiosity to the plot. It's mainly a "Guy's Book" but i feel some women would enjoy as well. Some parts made my jaw drop and other parts had my eyes glued to the paper. GREAT READ! Thanks, BP 
acorley84 More than 1 year ago
I didn't find that this was one of my favorite reads, however, it wasn't the worst that I've ever read either. I felt like the story was a little long and drawn out and believe that a lot of it could have been omitted and still not take anything away from the story. Had that been the case, I may have enjoyed it a little more. I usually don't mind the story jumping back and forth through time, but for some reason, I found it slightly difficult to follow with The Lock Artist. For as much story that was there, I still felt like I didn't know enough. I did enjoy the story coming from Michael's perspective, but didn't care for the drastic jumps in time. Sometimes it was difficult to tell what part of Michael's life he was talking about and for it to make sense with everything else that has happened.  There were not many likable characters, if any in this story. I find it hard to even want to follow the characters if you have difficulty enjoying reading about them, which ended up being the case with most of this book's characters. I don't feel like we weren't educated enough on Michael to feel like you could have a relationship with his character. I felt like there were many things left to the imagination. I do feel like Michael was a unique character, but I found myself easily getting aggravated with him! I just feel like the story never really truly connected with Michael, the main character and I just could not feel like I was invested with the story or characters. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book. It's been a long time since I've read something that demands I read more instead of leaving it with my stack of other half-read books. There is a lot of violence/foul language, but I was easily able to look past it and it didn't interfere at all with my enjoyment of my book, contrary to other reviewers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I agree with another review on this book, it was good jowever the profanity, cussing, and gore i however do not think was neccessary
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't believe how good of a book this was until I read it! I've never read anything that had so much feeling and intensity than "The Lock Artist"!! Great job Steve Hamilton!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago