Set in the fictional and ancient city of Camorr, a fantastical version of Venice, The Lies of Lock Lamora tells the story of a young and talented con man, the afore mentioned Locke Lamora, and his small band of thieves who use their robust education, various skills and brains to swindle the aristocracy out of vast sums of money. This book specifically tells a tale about their swindle of a young Don and his wife that quickly spirals out into an elaborate and bloody fight between the Capa, the rich and powerful crime lord of Camorr, and the mysterious Gray King, who has taken a special interest in Locke and his friends. While this main storyline is going on, we also get flash backs to Locke’s childhood years and the growth and development of his unique band of thieves.
The world building in this book is excellent. While the flash backs mostly flesh out Locke, Jean Tannen and the Sanza Twins younger years, they also tell short stories about the world that Camorr is located in. Religious development, culturally significant events and history are all provided every couple chapters or so. While I found all the interludes to be pretty interesting, some are interjected into the currant day story in such a way that they break the tension right in half; just move them around a little bit and we would be fine. The city of Camorr is an ancient, maze like contraption with wildly different neighborhoods, denizen’s and politics that author Scott Lynch uses throughout the book to give the story different flavors and backdrops to showcase, thought by the end it all seems to bleed together a bit more that I would have liked. The religious aspects of the world are among the more interesting things about it, if only because of the way Locke and his friends view religion. Locke and gang worship the Crooked Warden and mysterious and semi-secret 13th god in their worlds pantheon who is the god of thieves. As such, Locke and his friends use their intimate knowledge or religion to get into places they would never otherwise get access to. They all also seem to have a pretty genuine, if casual, faith, which is not something you see very often from thieves. Their understanding of the other faiths of the world allows them to abuse those faiths and their relationship with the public, but because they themselves are pious, after a fashion, it’s not viewed as the blasphemy it otherwise would be. It’s an odd and fun angle on thievery and religion that I really liked.
Lynch also does an excellent job of setting up the currant day politics of Camorr, which provide the more important and immediate context for Locke and his friends. The ruling Duke and the organized crime boss, Capa Barsavi, have a Secret Peace, where the nobility and their holdings are off limits to the criminals and in return they can run rampant on the regular merchant and blue-collar populace of the city. This is important because Locke’s gang defies that truce with elaborate confidence schemes on the nobility. Using disguises, elaborate plans, and intimate knowledge of the going ons of the city and nearby countries, they scam the blue bloods out of giant amounts of money. The book implies that a criminal ring of this type has never really been seen in the city before and that makes for a lot of fun and interesting encounters and actions, both by Locke and his opponents who slowly realize the kind of young man they are dealing with. That being said, the story pretty quickly devolves most of that and doesn’t give Locke or his friends much room to maneuver; they are quickly stripped of most of their money and resources. And while it’s fine to watch them get by on their wits alone, taking all these fun toys away from the story halfway through feels unnecessary and lessens the fun of the second half. Also, they are obstinately a gang that uses their wits and brains well before brawn, but the story quickly moves them to that last option and the climax is not clever, it’s just brutish and short.
Regardless, I did find the story fun to read, especially the first two thirds, where their con and the mystery of the Gray King are still being explored. And while the last third of the book loses some of that flair, it’s still well worth finishing; by the time the book comes down from its greatest heights, you are already close enough to being done to just finish the thing. It’s just that when the book sets Locke up as such a clever and smart individual, the reader wants him to use that ability to win the day, not immediately jump to his fists and violence. The buildup of the whole book is undercut a bit by that and while it’s all still satisfying, it does feel like the end is missing something. It would be like if The Sting turned into a bloodbath halfway through the movie.
I want to praise Scott Lynch for his really great character work. Just about everybody in the book, from Locke and his gang, the other members of the crime world, to the powerful members of the aristocracy that the reader encounters are fleshed out remarkable well. They all have a real sense of humanity about them, for good and for ill. The Capa, while cold blooded when he needs to be, still loves and protects his children and might have even lost a step since his wife died some months ago; he is a sad bear of a man who’s best days are behind him and he doesn’t know how to deal with that. The gangs mentor, an old criminal named Father Chains, is a great mentor character who plans and executes a plan for his small gang from day one, all while being amused and caring for his young apprentices. The Spider, the governments secret spymaster, is a charming and unexpected character who I grew to like quite a bit. None of this redeems anybody, but it’s not supposed to. People are still people, no matter their moral code and it’s nice to see this book showcase that fact so well.
Story choices aside, I really enjoyed this book; fun characters, an interesting world and the promise of the surviving main characters traveling to different parts of the world all make for a fun read and a world I will gladly return to, as there are at least a couple more books already out there waiting for me.