By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Scott Lynch
Narration by: Michael Page
A dash of Fagin, a pinch of Oliver Twist, and a measure of Robin Hood and voila—you have Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora”.
An orphaned boy is purchased by the leader of a school of thieves in a country of the very rich and very poor. The orphaned boy is extraordinarily clever and resourceful. He is an artful dodger who instinctively manipulates events to achieve objectives. The Fagin-like leader of the school of thieves finds the boy an unmanageable threat to his gang and sells him to a bigger thief who masquerades as a priest.
The priest is a mentor and leader for young thieves. If the purchased orphans pass the priest’s interrogative interview, which demands honesty, they are invited to join. If they fail the interview, the priest is licensed to murder them. The orphaned boy passes the interview. He is Locke Lamora. Locke becomes a man; the priest dies, and Locke becomes the leader of a gang known as the Gentlemen Bastards.
This land of the rich and poor is other-worldly with myth and legend based on gangland ethics. Everyone belongs to a gang. The rich have fewer gangs, while the poor have many gangs. These gangs specialize in different forms of mayhem; i.e. some are street thieves, some are avengers, some are murderers for hire, some are rich overseers who make their own rules; a few cross all boundaries of specialization by dissembling. The Gentleman Bastards are dissemblers that wear disguises and cross all boundaries of society. They can appear as wealthy merchants or lowly beggars, depending on the con.
The ethics of gangs differ with a common thread for each. The common thread is self-preservation.
Examples of modern gangs and their ethical conundrums:
The Gentleman Bastards are a small group of young men that contribute to the don of a bigger gang. This larger gang is being quietly attacked by an unknown gang. The leaders of the don’s smaller gangs are being murdered. Locke Lamora is on the murder list of the unknown gang. Locke is a hero in this gangland culture because his gang exclusively steals from the rich without murder of either rich or poor. Locke is compelled to modify his no-murder rule when attacked by the unknown gang.
Aside from the entertaining adventure and clever writing of Lynch, the story explains how gangs become so important and influential in society. Society’s outcasts become part of a gang because it gives them identity, a quality of prestige. Poor people become part of a gang for identity and a way of making a living, or at least surviving. Rich people become a gang for similar reasons but with advantages in place; i.e. they have money, power, and prestige. Gangs exist in all societies; i.e., gang existence is life; particularly in a Hobbesian world.