Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: End of July Edition
The Underdogs: Mike Lupica

Iron House: John Hart

Book: Iron House
Author: John Hart
Pages: 432
Age Range: Adult

Iron_house I accepted a review copy of John Hart's Iron House, an adult thriller, because it was on my wish list. I had enjoyed Hart's previous novel, The Last Child, and wanted to check this one out. Iron House is about two brothers who spent their childhood in a hideous, neglectful institution (called Iron House), until a tragedy separated them. Older brother Michael ran away, and went on to become a top of the line mob enforcer. Julian, on the other hand, was adopted by a wealthy senator and his wife. Twenty-three years later, Michael, in love, is trying to get out of the mob, even as violence taints Julian's sheltered world, and brings the two estranged brothers back into each other's lives. The seeds of Julian's problems can be traced clearly back to Iron House. 

Primary protagonist Michael is a strong character, shaped by his terrible childhood into a killing machine, but still possessing a moral compass. Here's a passage that I think captures Michael's essence:

"Michael waved back, conflicted. He knew what to do, but didn't want to do it; needed Elena, yet was here. Michael told himself to get a grip, to chill out. He could still fix everything: Julian, Elena, the life they'd yet to make. But the comfort was illusory. Everything he loved was far away." (Page 237)

Michael is highly capable (a bit like Lee Child's Reacher in that sense, but more complex), and despite the many other treads, is the heart of the story. The senator's wife, Abigail Vane, is also intriguing, much stronger than her polished looks would suggest.

Iron House is well-written and compelling - I stayed up late reading it several nights in a row, and then had trouble falling asleep because my adrenaline was racing. There are quite a few puzzles, and I found it intriguing to try to figure them out. But overall, Iron House was a bit too graphic for me to whole-heartedly enjoy it.

I have a fairly high threshold for violence in my adult reading. Lee Child and Harlan Coben are two of my favorite authors. But Iron House had a couple of scenes that crossed the line for me. That doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend Iron House to other adult readers. Hart sets a good balance between action and mystery. The settings are well-defined (particularly the creepy Iron House). The characters are also clearly delineated and interesting, and Michael is a killer to cheer for. Iron House is a top-notch thriller. But you should only read it if you have a high tolerance for graphic violence (including torture).

Iron House is a book that will (for good and ill) stay in my memory for a long time. Recommended for fans of sharp-edged, intelligent thrillers.

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (Macmillan)
Publication Date: July 12, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.