I have an issue with recommending series novels for a crime or mystery book discussion because I have issues dropping readers unfamiliar with the series character into the middle of the saga.  On the other hand, some readers do not like it when their favorite series author drops out of the series to write a stand alone. 

So, I could easily be recommending Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight books for a book discussion but instead I am very happy to be talking about his terrific new stand along novel, The Lock Artist

This novel succeeds on many levels.  It is the coming of age story of a young Michigan boy named Michael who is known as the Miracle Boy.  This nickname refers to an incident that happened when Michael was a child.  Readers are going to have to be patient to find out why this made Michael a mute.  Hamilton is not going to reveal anything until the time is right.

He uses two narrative time frames to tell this story, hopping between Michael’s development as a teenager versus his life of crime. 

As a teenage, Michael finds himself living with a kindly uncle and discovering an artist talent in high school that readers will hope keep him on a straight and narrow path.  Readers will feel this way despite the fact that the opening chapter in this novel is called Locked Up Tight for Another Day. 

This is because the other artist talent that Michael has is lock picking.  An unfortunate high school prank leaves Michael locked up and brings him to the attention of an organized crime element.  Here is where this book begins to share the same appeal as those noir novels written by names like Cain, Thompson or Cain.  It is a noir novel, the only question being how bad it is going to get. 

Michael’s crime career, experience just one short year after he stepped into the life, is compelling to people on the outside and should make you want to call a security service immediately after reading this book. 

Issues for book discussion leaders include what elements isolate Michael from a normal life, what role the father-figures do or should have played in his young life, and the nature of true love. 

Expect this novel to be listed on many of the best of 2010 lists to be issued next spring.



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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