'Iron House' by John Hart not-so-cozy, brilliantly crafted thriller
By John Hart
Hardcover, 421 pages, $25.99
A heads-up to readers: This is not a cozy mystery book review — and this title is a huge departure from the books I normally review. But, if you like thrillers and terrific writing (and don’t mind some rather graphic violence) grab this book.
I hesitated before agreeing to give this book a read, but all it took was a few pages, and I was hooked.
Although it's twisted and dark, the story is an amazing adventure from the mountains of North Carolina to the streets of New York City and back again. I’m neither a big fan of graphic violence nor of thrillers, (I like to read before I go to nod off to sleep), but Hart’s writing is fast-paced, brilliant and captivating.
'Iron House' is his bestselling author’s fourth book, and already he has won back-to-back Edgar Awards. My guess is this book will garner a third.
Hart grabs his readers like the jaws of a pitbull. He writes from a dark playground of the mountain region of North Carolina and centers his tale around the lives of two young boys who wind up in an orphanage called Iron House, where both are abused.
But one brother is stronger than the other, and their two lives head down different paths when Michael takes the blame for an accidental death and runs away.
No stranger to violence, Michael winds up on the streets of New York as an enforcer for a mob boss. “There was no window to his soul that wasn’t cracked enough through or painted black. He was a killer, and could never take that back.”
But he meets a woman and falls in love — something he never thought was possible, and that deeply rooted emotion is used against him.
Meanwhile, his brother, Julian, is adopted by a North Carolina senator and his wife, but his childhood of repeated bullying and abuse in the orphanage taints his world forever and contributes to the dark tone of his career as a children’s book author.
Both characters display a deep loyalty to those they love and eventually, the two brothers are reunited — but the mob isn’t far behind. I won’t get into the violence; it’s rather graphic, but it advances the story and gives readers an insight into family love and loyalty.
“There’s a difference between love and the memory of love. The memory of it is warm but basically meaningless. Love means you’ll do anything. Burn bridges. Tear down houses. Love makes normal life mean nothing at all. I want to know if that’s what you feel.”
In the end, both brothers are given a chance to add new chapters in their lives and move on, but it’s a blood-stained road and emotionally ravaged journey to that point. This is an amazing story that you won’t want to stop reading — until you finish the last words.
I think one of the scariest parts is how Hart dreamed up this story, because in this case, fiction is way more twisted than reality. I recommend you read this book on the beach or in a lawn chair under a shade tree — not as a bedtime story.