Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch, was one of the best-received books in 2006, though I don't recall seeing it up for any major awards. But it took me a while to get around to reading it, mainly because I don't like taking a shot buying a hard cover novel from an author I've never heard of. There's the cost, and while I can afford it, it would severely cut into my unallocated funds. Then there's the convenience factor--on the one hand, I like paperback books because I can carry them just about anywhere and they don't take up as much space. And (the real reason), they also don't take up much storage space. Even in our relatively new house, until (And even if) Mrs. Speculator and I start putting up built-ins, we don't have much shelf space. But here in our office, I have a half shelf of a standard bookcase still devoid of any literature, and I can stack paperbacks three deep in it. At the rate we are going, that's another three or four years of bookspace.

(All of this brings up the eReader and Kindle as possibilities, but those things worry me because at heart I am probably a Luddite. I don't even have a cell phone yet, for heaven's sake....)

So, I sat down to read Lies with a happy heart because everyone likes this novel. And by the time I finished it, I liked it also; it just took a long while to get to that point. Meet Locke Lamora, someone who is purported to be a world-class thief, and yet he is really more of a con artist than anything else. And that's fine, but it is dross from the reviews (and the novel's own set-up) that has has to be worked through. Lynch sets the story up in two threads--one telling us of the current adventures of Locke and the other describing his rise to his position as feared thief. Interestingly, Lamora fails as many times as he succeeds in the historical thread, which of course is to be expected of young up-and-comers.

Also meet Camorr, another in a long tradition of epic fantasy cities, cities that take on a life of their own and become more of a character than a setting. Except that while the first half of the book sets up some fascinating questions about Camorr and its history (a good number of which are answered as the story goes along), a lot remaisn unexplained. Ultimately that's okay too, but until the story starts picking up its pace (about halfway through) those holes in the story leave the reader to ponder, that is, until the events of the story sweep all sense of proportion out mind.

So we follow Locke and his band of thieves, the Gentlemen Bastards, as they attempt to pull a con on a certain noble in Camorr. At the same time, someone is attacking the leadership of the confederation of thieves across the city. Lynch deftly sticks the Gentlemen Bastards between these two plot elements, in a most satisfacory vise-like manner. And the reader recognizes that the joy of the story, its crisis, is when our heroes barely win free of their problems to steal another day. And to his credit, Lynch sneers at such a cliched path and goes off somewhere on his own, which is just about the point where the book gets really exciting.

I've had some recent discussions with a new-found geek friend who likes to talk about movies, and together we have been advising a co-worker on which free movies he should select for his brand new Blu-Ray DVD player and LCD HD TV. And as I look at the lists that the new HD owner can choose from, I find myself saying things like, "You know, it's really a dumb movie at its heart, but I really like Con Air (you can insert also The Rock, Uncle Buck, and Empire Records here)." And when I say such a thing, I always feel a little guilty for liking things whose intrinsic value is not jumping out at me even though I am enjoying the heck out of them. And after I finished The Lies of Locke Lamora, I found myself with the same feeling--I ended up liking the book, but I couldn't figure out WHY I want to buy the next book in line. I went through the mental checklist--writing is average, nothing leaps out at me as particularly brilliant wordsmithing; the dialogue is okay, there is no brilliant wordplay like one finds in a Howard Hawks movie or Steven Brust novel; the setting is a little above average, but undeveloped; and the characters are fairly standard stuff (in the hopes of not spoiling anything, see earlier discussions about buddy novels and their relation to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser). So why did I like the book. Why do I find myself watching Uncle Buck every time I see its on?

The plot. It's all about how the story moves. Even though I have no reason to believe the praise heaped on Lamora by other characters or even reviewers, I do find myself enmeshed in his crisis and wanting to know how he gets out of it. And since it becomes clear relatively early on that, despite his reliance on the tropes for all other facets of his story-telling, Lynch is more than happy to take his plot to other places, I desperately want to know how it ends. And then, before I started writing this blog entry, a little research revealed to me that Lies is the first of a planned seven-novel series, so the things that aren't resolved are likely to be.

And there it is--this is a fun book, the plot of which will take your breath away as it rockets along in its last half. And perhaps, as he continues to write, Lynch will be able to expand his repertoire in the other facets of writing, making his novels more developed and perhaps enjoyable for other reasons. It's a little immodest, I think, to believe that you are so good at your craft that you plan a seven-book series before you even sell your first novel, but I won't hold that against him unless things begin to fall apart as the series goes along.

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