Monday, October 16, 2006

The Year of Thieves

Next year I’m going to write a best-selling novel. It’s going to be about a con-artist heroin addict pirate who makes his way through a seedy underworld in a vaguely Italian city with snaky canals and perpetually poor lighting. There may be a mystical volume with otherworldly properties thrown in for good measure. I will make a million dollars!

Seriously, I don’t even want to look at another book about Thieves, Thieves Guilds, Seafaring Thieves of any variety, Canal Dwelling Thieves, or any permutation thereof. Pirates and magical mystical tomes are likewise straight out. That being said, I give Scott Lynch’s debut novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora, two hesitant thumbs up. Maybe a thumb and a half. I lost the other half of the thumb in a bar brawl with pirates while bingeing on heroin. I sound convincing, don’t I? I’m practicing for my turn on Oprah.

It’s true that all stories have been told before and there is nothing new under the sun, etc etc, but Lynch’s story often reads like a formulaic RPG campaign companion, combining elements of countless other books: the alien forerunners, with their bequest of mysterious technology, the Venice-like setting, the guild of con artists, and more. Locke Lamora makes up in wit what it lacks in originality, however, and his characters have an appealing freshness to them. He has a nice eye for descriptive detail, and the city he creates is vivid and believable. This deftness with the background, however, highlights the deficits in the plot and characterization. It’s like seeing a play in which all the effort has gone into the sets, and the lines have been thrown in as an afterthought.

It’s certainly an entertaining read, and definitely the standout in this year’s crop of thieves’ tales. I predict good things to come from Scott Lynch. They just haven’t come quite yet. If this were a report card, it would read ‘does not live up to his potential’. I think that when he does, the results will be very exciting.

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