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Iron House by John Hart
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Thomas Dunne Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312380342
Date: 12 July 2011 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Strong, healthy Michael and weak, sickly Julian were two orphaned brothers who clung to each other in the abusive environment of Iron House. Julian murders one of his tormenters, Hennessey; Michael takes the blame and runs away from the orphanage. Julian is adopted by the wealthy Abigail Vane and grows up to become a best-selling children's author who suffers from mental illness. Meanwhile, Michael is "adopted" by notorious mob boss Otto Kaitlin and becomes a professional hit man.

When Michael meets and falls in love with Elena Del Portal, an NYU student, he is determined to quit the mob. The dying Otto gives him his blessing; unfortunately, when Otto succumbs, his son Stevan is determined to murder Michael for his betrayal. Stevan also threatens to kill Elena and Julian. After twenty-three years apart, Michael finds his younger brother and uncovers dark, evil family secrets that threaten to destroy the lives of everyone around them.

John Hart's Southern crime drama, Iron House, is a twisted, tumultuous, ultra-violent tale of family abuse and corruption. It is also a voluminous example of vicious crime noir that is relentlessly intense and suspenseful. Terrifying images of human torture and suffering kept me awake at night. This novel is definitely not for the squeamish. There is a vast assortment of characters that are expertly brought to life. Most of them are evil, save for a select few.

The main character in Iron House is Michael, a hit man, who is a type of antihero. He tells Elena that he has only killed bad men who deserved to die. However, who has given him the right to play God and judge whether or not a person should live? Certainly not the evil Otto Kaitlin who enjoys blackmailing the wealthy. However, Michael does reveal a merciful side of himself; in several scenes, he resists the temptation to kill those who have wronged him. Furthermore, he truly loves Elena, the baby she is carrying, and Julian; he will risk death to save them.

I'm a firm believer that a man chooses to be evil. He is not evil because of his environment. Iron House implies that it is abuse that creates monsters. In this crime drama, there are many types of abuse. Children are abused by their parents and their peers; adults are abused by their spouses. There is a lot of victim mentality, which results in low self-esteem.

Julian writes and paints as a form of creative release; he writes controversial children's books because he himself has been fixated in childhood, never having psychologically escaped the abuse of Iron House. Julian's novels have been banned because of their dark, depressing images. Michael, in a manner, is also an artist. He must be creative in the methods by which he dispatches his victims.

Creativity is the only talent the brothers have in common. They are polar opposites. Julian is weak; Michael is strong. Julian is timid and frightened; Michael is calm and fearless. However, there is the time that Julian killed Hennessey, but that was an act of self-defense rather than cold-blooded murder. Michael talks about the irony of returning to Iron Mountain, twenty-three years after leaving, and being arrested for the one murder he didn't commit.

It was love that made Michael take the blame for killing Hennessey. The love of family is emphasized tremendously throughout Iron House. Michael yearns to have a normal family with Elena and their baby. Abigail yearned to have a family when she traveled to Iron House to adopt Michael and Julian. It was his yearning for family, stability and a feeling of belonging that made Michael become a part of a mob family. He felt that Otto's son, Stevan, and their evil henchman, Jimmy, were his brothers. Unfortunately, they don't hesitate to kill him when he wishes to leave with Elena.

Having grown up in the beautiful Smoky Mountains, I can imagine that Iron Mountain and Slaughter Mountain must also be very beautiful. However, there is a great deal of poverty in those mountains. This poverty contrasts starkly with the sprawling, fortified estate owned my Senator Randall Vale in Chatham County, North Carolina. The reader eventually learns that appearances are deceptive and evilness lurks there as well. An evilness that is more deadly than the one at Iron House.

John Hart's Iron House is an engrossing, psychological crime drama that is highly recommended. Be forewarned, there are numerous scenes of graphic, shocking violence and one torture scene that made me want to stop reading the novel. It was extremely heinous, brutal, and cruel. However, I could never stop reading; there were too many unanswered questions such as: Who is killing the men who once tormented Julian when they were boys living at Iron House?

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