Below: The Ghost Key, the Anywhere Key, the Gender Key, the Head Key, the Shadow Key, the Wind-Up Soldier Key, the Echo Key, the Animal Key, the Mending Key…and last of all the Omega Key:
I can’t decide on my favorite thing about Locke & Key:
- The utterly badass artwork by Gabriel Rodriguez (seriously, it’s the best I’ve seen in any graphic novel – the angles, the clarity, the expressiveness, the naturalistic creepiness!). The narrative slides back and forth in time with utter grace, like when Tyler Locke sits in the hallway while funeral guests gather in the living room, and he watches his younger self tiptoe across the hall and eavesdrop on his parents when they were both alive.
- Joe Hill’s knack for names. The killer who stalks them is Sam Lesser, a wonderfully fleshed-out baddie who had all the test scores but was denied the privilege that the Locke kids enjoy. He finds them in their summer home in Willits, California, which is an even better place name than Lovecraft, Massachussetts.
- The individuality of the three kids, both before and after grief, and the complex cohesiveness of the Locke family. By the middle of the book, looking at an old family photo of the Locke family in happier times almost brought tears to my eyes.
- So subtle. I almost missed the fact that Sam Lesser was doing a sexual favor during one scene. And nobody even says what Sam and his friend did to the mom. She’s just becoming an alcoholic, that’s all.
The story starts off with murder. Sam Lesser knocks on the door of his high school guidance counselor, Mr. Locke, and proceeds to demand a certain key. Then he kills him. The narrative rotates amongst the three kids: Tyler, a broad-shouldered 17-year-old whose square jaw and big hands look just like his dad’s; Kinsey, a 15-year-old girl with dreadlocks and piercings; and Bode, a 6-year-old trouble magnet with a knack for finding keys.
Afterward, the family moves from sunny California to their uncle’s drafty old mansion on the island of Lovecraft in Massachussetts. The house has a name – Key House – and is chock full of shivery secrets that grown-ups can’t see. Magic keys and magic doors are hidden everywhere, and the house will make sure that the keys are found.
The spirit in the well says at one point, “Kids always think they’re coming into a story at the beginning, when usually they’re coming in at the end.” Something happened 25 years ago, but Uncle Duncan just can’t remember. Whatever it was, it had drifted out of Rendell Locke’s memory too, so he didn’t even know why Sam Lesser was waving a gun in his face. This longstanding mystery adds another layer of drive to the story, when the story already has six pistons of grief, guilt, danger, family, justice, and magic.
Here, have a sample:
GIRL IN THE WELL: I’m glad you came down to see me tonight. You saved me a step. I was going to have Sam bring you to me.
BODE: Sam? Oh, no. Oh, nonono.
GIRL IN THE WELL: Poor, brilliant Sam. Did you know they skipped him over eighth grade, after he finished the entire year’s reading in nine days? His mother celebrated with her second arrest for drug possession in a year.
BODE: He killed my dad.
GIRL IN THE WELL: That’s not the only thing about him that matters, you know.
BODE: Yes it is.
GIRL IN THE WELL: So what brought you ‘round to see me, Bode? So late at night? Especially if you decided you didn’t trust me anymore.
BODE: You knew some things about my dad. So I figured if you really are an echo, you must be an echo of someone who knew him. I just wanted to know who.
GIRL IN THE WELL: My names are legion, Bode. But I’ll tell you what. In a place called once-upon-a-time, your daddy would’ve done anything to make me happy. And before tonight is over, you’re going to feel the same way.