The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton – A Book Review

The Lock Artist pleasantly surprised me.  While I realized it was a crime/mystery novel, I never expected it to have so much heart, such great characterization, nor did I imagine the plot would be so tightly woven.

The protagonist of the novel, Michael, is a young man who refuses to speak due to a past tragedy and has a preternatural talent at picking locks and opening safes.  His history is complex and rich, and Hamilton makes a point to slowly reveal those things we most want to know, and in doing so he builds the tension.  It’s worth noting, consequently, that those revelations are well worth the wait.

Hamilton presents an interesting first-person narrative style by having Michael recount his past to us, but he does so in two different phases.  One phase of his recollections are his most recent jobs, especially the one that lands him in his current predicament.  The other phase explains how and why he initially became a “box man,” a safe-cracker.  Both plot lines are engaging, and Hamilton converges them at just the right moments.  The meticulous complexity of Hamilton’s plot was a delight.  There literally is nothing in this novel that does not play an important role to the overall story.

Hamilton also impressed me by making it seem as though Michael really is a “golden boy” at opening safes.  I have no idea how accurate Hamilton’s depictions are, but they certainly were specific enough to suspend my disbelief.

But the great joy of The Lock Artist is the precision Hamilton exemplifies with his main character.  Michael is a realistic, charismatic, deeply layered character and I found myself truly caring about his plight.  The greatest compliment I can give Hamilton is that Michael now exists within my mind as a vital entity.

With a smooth, enjoyable writing style, Hamilton produced a fast-paced, incredibly well-crafted novel that not only provides plenty of excitement, but some legitimate characterization as well.  Even if you’re not a crime/mystery novel reader, I know you’ll enjoy The Lock Artist.

No Fear In My Classroom by Frank C. Wootan – A Book Review

By and large, No Fear In My Classroom offers one man’s opinion on how to deal with fear in the classroom and fearful aspects of being an educator.  While many of his points are possible, most of them are unlikely to occur and could needlessly frighten you.  As he says, though, it’s always good to plan ahead even if improbable.

I have to admit up front that I was skeptical of Mr. Wootan because he had been in the insurance business thirty years prior to becoming an educator.  I kept asking myself, “What brought him into education at such a late stage?  Extra money?  Research to write books?  Or a burning desire to enter a profession he’d always dreamt of?”  Sadly, he never directly answered my questions, though I do admire him for freely discussing his past as a businessman and often giving examples as to how it helped serve him as an educator.

No Fear In My Classroom takes a rather common sense approach to teaching, and if you’re not a first-year teacher, you probably already know your thoughts on many of Wootan’s topics.  Some of his “fear” subjects were a bit over-the-top in my mind, however, if nothing else, Wootan’s book is a good vehicle for reflection and, in some cases, even gave me new and helpful ideas.

I wouldn’t describe Wootan’s writing style as particularly dynamic, though it is easily digestible. He makes a point to offer some very interesting statistics as well as noting a few beneficial websites.  It’s written in a very businesslike fashion, which would stand to reason considering his background.

If you’re a first-year teacher, Wootan brings up several points that are probably good to think about, though most of them will never occur in your classroom.  Just try not to become overwhelmed by the possibilities he brings up.  I think if you’re a seasoned teacher and you’re capable of picking and choosing what you want to take to heart from what you read, No Fear In My Classroom is also a helpful refresher.

The Bronx Kill by Peter Milligan – A Book Review

The Bronx Kill is a graphic novel released through Vertigo’s crime imprint.  In case you’re not aware, Vertigo is a division of DC Comics, aimed at mature readers and offering mature content.  Not pornographic, mind you, just a little bit more adult-themed.  Think of DC as network television, and Vertigo as HBO.

Peter Milligan delivers a story about a young writer who opted to ignore the family’s history of going into law enforcement.  He takes his young wife to visit The Bronx Kill, a space of forlorn land where terrible things have happened to his family in particular.  She is fascinated by it, especially given his father’s past.  The writer soon leaves the country in order to research his newest novel, but when he returns, his wife—and his life—are irrevocably changed … and it has everything to do with The Bronx Kill.

I have to admit that much of Milligan’s story was predictable and well-tread.  However, he put enough suspense into it to make it an enjoyable read, and once through the first third of the book, I couldn’t put it down—despite its familiar ingredients.  Milligan did one thing, however, that really set The Bronx Kill apart.  He inserted excerpts from his main character’s latest novel, and it isn’t long before the passages begin to parallel the main storyline.  I thought this was a nice touch that really made the book feel special.  It definitely augmented the book’s quality in my mind.

James Romberger provided the art for The Bronx Kill, and he does a serviceable job.  To me, his work didn’t really stand out as especially captivating.  And while he successfully conveyed the mood, the story’s progression, and the action, his pictures just didn’t seem to totally fit with Milligan’s themes.

Overall, The Bronx Kill is a fast, enjoyable read with some moments of real originality.  If you’re a fan of crime noir and sequential art, I’d give it a try.