Hamilton’s unusual crime novel has for a protagonist a most unique character: Michael has not spoken a word since a traumatic incident that forever altered his future at eight years old. Raised by a well-meaning bachelor uncle who owns a liquor store in a rundown Michigan neighborhood, Michael develops an innate talent for opening locks that will eventually set him on a criminal path. Living in a world where silence is his only companion, Michael has two interests: drawing and spinning the chambers of the locks he purchases from an antique shop.
After a few years spent in a school for the deaf, Michael is sent into the public school system, where he endures the incessant curiosity and taunting of the other students. As he loses interest in studies, he entertains himself with his drawing skills, creating a world where he is in control of the future. Carried along one night by a group of rowdy boys in search of trouble, the boy who will not speak has his first brush with law enforcement, a seminal moment in his life and one where he comes to the attention of professional criminals who appreciate the boy’s extraordinary talent.
Given Michael’s demographic and lack of social structure, it isn’t surprising that he is attracted to the criminal element, a perfect “boxman” who will not rat on his partners. Michael is an ideal match for careful safecrackers who plan every job to its most minute detail. For all their eccentricities, these are professional thieves, a loose camaraderie of misfits who welcome the quiet boy with the monster skills.
The one ray of hope in his life is the accidental meeting with Amelia, daughter of one of the master crooks. Teenaged Amelia becomes the only emotional connection in Michael’s life, the one person to whom “The Miracle Boy” may finally tell his story. Certainly psychiatrists have tried to pry the words from the unwilling boy, but it is only with Amelia that he feels a bond that may save him from a life of isolation.
Hamilton has not only created a fascinating personality in his protagonist but also a social statement on the effects of trauma on a young life and the long-term damage as a helpless child is introduced to true terror. The reader cannot help but root for this young man with his unusual talent, the pawn of those who would profit from his skill, a precious commodity in the rarified world of high-stakes safe-cracking. Always on the fringe of groups he would never aspire to join, Michael observes the dynamics of thieves both petty and brutal, sophisticated and charming.
As the world closes in and his luck runs out, Michael clings only to his commitment to protect Amelia from harm, planning an escape from the life of crime that has claimed him. But circumstances and the vagaries of human behavior conspire to put Michael directly in the path of retribution in a final violent reckoning. If Michael’s silent world is ever to be unlocked, it will be when he is ready to share the nightmare of his past and claim a more promising future.