Monday, July 4, 2011

"A good book should leave you . . . slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it." ~ William Styron

  John Hart     
  Thomas Dunne Books
  July 2011
 "A good book should leave you . . . slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it." ~ William Styron

I ran across this quotation from William Styron while in the process of reading Iron House and thought that it was particularly apt—I was more than slightly exhausted after reading this really fine thriller. I have been an admirer of John Hart’s work since The King of Liars. Iron House is several steps beyond that first novel in complexity and scope.

Michael is a professional killer whose allegiance since his teenage years has been to the only father figure he has ever known, Otto Kaitlin, racketeer and killer. Michael has met a woman that he loves and gets permission from the dying Otto to get out of the “life”. However, he knows that after Otto dies there are others in the organization that are not so willing to let him go. On the surface, Iron House is about what Michael has to do to make good his escape, but there is much more going on here; family, old sins coming to haunt the present and the possibility of redemption and change.

My thought at the outset was that Hart would have “a hard row to hoe” to convince me to like and root for a professional killer. However, he had me by Chapter Six. The early events of his life, and that of his brother, Julian, in the orphanage named Iron House are important pieces of the puzzle. Julian was adopted by the wife of a senator, and Michael fell into the hands of Otto Kaitlin, but Julian is by far the more wounded brother. There is literally nothing that Michael will not do to save those he loves from his enemies.

Iron House is meticulously plotted, proceeding at a breathtaking pace. The characters are well fleshed out and believable, from the wounded Julian to the wife of the sleazy senator to one of the scariest psychopaths I’ve ever encountered in a book. It is also extraordinarily violent but never falls into a “violence for violence’s sake” trap. Why only 4 ½ stars? The only element I found missing was a sense of place. The bulk of the action takes place in North Carolina, but the events could have taken place anywhere in America where poverty, ignorance and violence meet. As a native North Carolinian, I have always enjoyed that sense of place in Hart’s first three books. However, I doubt that my one small caveat will detract from any one else’s enjoyment of Iron House.

Rating-4 1/2 stars

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