The Lies of Locke Lamora
By Scott Lynch
Published 2006 by Bantam Spectra
On the night the Lamora boy had come to live under the Thiefmaker’s care, the old graveyard on Shades’ Hill had been full of children, standing at silent attention and waiting for their new brothers and sisters to be led down into the mausoleums.
The Thiefmaker’s wards all carried candles; their cold blue light shone through the silver curtains of river mist as streetlamps might glimmer through a smoke-grimed window. A chain of ghostlight wound its way down from the hilltop, through the stone markers and ceremonial paths, down to the wide glass bridge over the Coalsmoke Canal, half-visible in the blood-warm fog that seeps up from Camorr’s wet bones on summer nights.
Locke Lamora, orphaned at 5 in the sprawling canal city of Camorr, drifts into the criminal underworld Olivier Twist-style, except without the pure intentions. The young Locke shows such a flair for deception, thievery, and mayhem that he is soon apprenticed off to Father Chains, who trains him for a life of high crimes and fine cuisine.
His training complete, a young adult Lamora leads The Gentleman Bastards, outwardly a small and rather pathetic street band but secretly a team of top-notch conmen who liberate the city's upper classes of their fortunes in elaborate schemes. Such deception is necessary, for if the leader of the underworld, Capa Barsavi, found out that The Gentleman Bastards were up to then their lives would be forfeit. Likewise, the slightly more legitimate authorities in Camorr are also in a hanging mood.
The Gentleman Bastards' latest scheme involves getting a couple of nobles to invest in a shady racket. It is all going to plan, with Lamora suavely moving between the worlds of organized crime and high society parties. But complications keep arising. Who is the mysterious Grey King that keeps killing Capa Barsavi's henchmen? Can Lamora get out of marrying Barsavi's daughter? And what to do with this all-powerful Bondmage who has Lamora under his thumb?
The previous description makes The Lies of Locke Lamora sound like a light tale of trickery and guile, and so it is at first. But the plot spins off into some pretty dark places as what should be a simple con-job keeps getting more tortuous by the day. As an anti-hero, Lamora has some pretty direct methods especially when revenge is called for.
It was a real pleasure to read a good old-fashioned well-plotted and tense novel. Lynch's prose has a nice flowAlthough Lynch cannot resist peppering the pages with some really obscure archaic words. and the dialog rings true like a brass bell. Camorr itself is a fantastically over-the-top Dickensesque setting with some excellently alien touches hiding in the rolling sea fog.
The Lies' plot bounces around in time between Lamora's early years and his current swindle. Normally this type of non-linear story telling is just annoying but Lunch knows how to structure a yarn for maximum entertainment. The one criticism of the writing I have is that maybe it is a little too structured, divided up into acts with story beats exactly in the places they would fall in a screenplay. Nothing wrong with this and it is very professionally done, but it does add a air of predicability.
One thing I really appreciated about The Lies of Locke Lamora is that it actually comes to a satisfying end despite being the first in a series. I have read too many books that think that they can get away with just stopping in mid-flow, assuming that we will rush out and buy the sequel. Lynch knows what we want - bad guys are punished, evil is vanquished, our heroes learn something, and even minor characters get their chance to shine. Who can blame the author if the last pages set things up for a well deserved sequel after everything is drawn up with a neat bow?
Recommended if you like this sort of thing.