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The International Writers Magazine: Reviews

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Published by Gollancz 544 pages
ISBN-10: 0575079754
ISBN-13: 978-0575079755

Review by Jack Clarkson

Scott Lynch may have a problem with Neil Gaiman when the time comes for one of them to take Terry Pratchett’s place as lord of fantasy stories. His debut novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora takes place in a fantasy version of Venice called Camorr which has been built around ancient ruins made of magical glass left behind by a forgotten alien race called the Eldren…

This of course is totally irrelevant to the story! In which Locke and his trusted friends who call themselves The Gentlemen Bastards, construct elaborate confidence tricks in order to relieve Camorr’s upper classes of their money. It’s like "The Hustle" but set somewhere like Discworld!

Scott Lynch seems to share the cynical imagination that Terry Pratchett used to make Discworld so popular. The characters were likeable and hate-able in all the right places, and I found myself enchanted by the story within a few pages because of Lynch’s eloquent and witty writing style.

The world may have contract hired Wizards called Bondsmagi and indestructible glass buildings and alchemically altered fruit. But Lynch isn’t so naïve as to think they wouldn’t be used for untraceable assassinations, ready made real estate and modified alcohol that doesn’t give you a hangover.

The story unfolds in the form of a clever and convoluted crime fiction when "The Thiefmaker", a Fagin like character who capitalises on a strange plague that kills anyone over twelve years old by collecting the resulting orphans in order to train them as thieves, finds a young boy calling himself Locke who has already stolen at least a years wages worth from the surrounding police soldiers. Locke turns out to be an exceptional pickpocket, but a little bit too ambitious for his own good when he bites off a little more than he can chew. In desperation, the Thiefmaker sells him to Father Chains, a blind man chained to the temple of Perelandro. Who turns out to be neither blind nor chained, but a competent con-man who uses the sympathy to rake in a little money on the side from his real profession, teaching his own thieves, confidence tricksters and masters of disguise, the Gentlemen Bastards.

Interspersed with Locke’s upbringing, we see him as a grown man preparing and beginning the biggest scam of his career. Unfortunately everything goes pear shaped when the local crime lord finds himself subject to a hostile takeover by someone called the Grey King who appears to know Locke’s secret identity and occupation already…

I should probably tell you that the Lies Of Locke Lamora is no children’s book. If you’re used to Pratchett you might still find it a bit of a culture shock to hear some of the stuff the characters have to say, and some of the violence made even me squirm at times. If Voldemort lived here, he would have been raped and murdered by the local gangs within five minutes, but only after being robbed blind by Locke of course.

If you like a bit of crime fiction, then this will be a nice, refreshing diversion from the usual mundane detectives and criminals you read about. How would you go about outsmarting a Wizard who can read your mind and control your body if he so much as knows your name? Don’t let the setting and some of the details fool you. This is a crime fiction at its very core, if you enjoy Christopher Brookmyre’s writing or stories like The Talented Mr Ripley this will be right up your dark, mugger infested alley.
© Jack Carkson Feb 2008

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