One of my favorite authors is Steve Hamilton, who has departed from the familiar environs of Paradise, Michigan (the Alex McKnight series), to tackle the tough, unflinching story of a young boy who becomes a genius at opening locks. Our protagonist, Mike Smith, starts his personal narration as he sits in prison, writing the story of his life because he cannot speak, the result of a mysterious trauma in his childhood that left him notorious as the “Miracle Boy.” He’s remanded to countless psychiatrists, counselors and eventually, the benign neglect of his uncle. Playing with an old lock in his uncle’s liquor store in Milford MI leads him to an old safecracker and locksmith called the “Ghost.” His ensuing skills as a “boxman” get him sucked into a life of crime as a mysterious crime lord from Detroit sends him on various safecracking missions via color-coded beepers. Messages from the yellow beepers are optional because they are sent from wild-card, unreliable criminals while red messages must be undertaken for the “Man” himself. Mike’s story weaves back and forth through his lifetime; his salvation from a tormented high school life by means of an interested art teacher and the discovery of his considerable art talent, his love for the mysterious Amelia, and his extended misadventures with a gang of high talent criminals in California.
As I read, the suspense and the questions kept building. What was the trauma that caused his silence? Who is the mystery man in Detroit? How did he land in prison? Who is Amelia and how did she come into his life? What will happen in California? How will he get out from under the thumb of the “Man?” Although Mike engages in criminal activities, he is curiously innocent and untainted. His character is influenced by all the awful things that happen to him but he emerges fairly unscathed and hopeful. His trauma is revealed in a gut-wrenching scene and it goes a far way to pulling everything together.
The time shifts weren’t a problem as I was consumed to know more about each chapter in Mike’s life. I couldn’t put this book down, and read into the wee hours of the morning. I heartily recommend it to both mystery and suspense readers.