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IRON HOUSE
by John Hart
Thomas Dunne Books, July 2011
432 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 0312380348


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If a mystery lover wants to know whether IRON HOUSE is worth reading, consider this: Author John Hart won two Edgar Awards back-to-back. He brings the same skill to this new thriller, although said reader must be up for the strong level of violence that accompanies this storytelling. While killings and other mayhem are standard fare for mystery writers, perhaps even more disturbing here are the scenes from childhood, when brothers Julian and Michael lived at the Iron Mountain Home for Boys.

The story begins, however, with the death of an old time crime boss, who mentored Michael after he left Iron Mountain. (His brother, perhaps luckier, was adopted by a senator and his wife.) Michael decides that he wants to leave the business, not only because it is the end for the man who was a father to him, but also as he has a new baby on the way. It's time for change. Of course, that's not what the crime syndicate thinks.

Michael is confident he can protect his pregnant girlfriend Elena, but less so when a threat comes against his brother, whom he hasn't seen since childhood. While Michael was always the stronger sibling, his brother was prey to the tortures of the stronger, meaner boys at Iron Mountain. He is psychologically fragile and clearly incapable of dealing with the likes of Michael's former colleagues.

Meanwhile, Elena (ignorant until now of Michael's true job) has second thoughts when she discovers Michael dumping a dead body in a lake to protect his brother once they arrive in North Carolina. She wants to leave Michael and return home to her native Spain, but will that leave her even more vulnerable?

Rivals within the crime family play out their competition with each other and with Michael, even as they try and kill him, but not before obtaining the fortune the old man left to Michael in offshore accounts. Elena and Julian are mere tools in these killers' eyes, to be used to flush Michael out of hiding.

There are many gruesome scenes in IRON HOUSE, but the excellent storytelling skills, suspense, and flashbacks make this well worth reading. Hart has brought to life the trials of childhood, of psychological damage, and the power of love and family to overcome it all.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, May 2011

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