Hartís Iron House deviates from his usual style, more driven and bloody than the usual fare, a mix of NYC organized crime and North Carolina rural justice, the contrast of money and power with the bone-deep rage of generations bred to cruelty and revenge. But at the heart is the violence to children that so defines Hartís writing, the brutalized child versus a hostile environment, whether in the random dangers of Iron Mountain School for Boys or the mean streets of New York, where innocence is bartered for profit, childhood casually shucked in favor of survival. The plot of this novel works on two levels - through the actions of an enigmatic killer raised in a powerful crime family who unexpectedly falls in love, and the fragile mental state of a brother left behind at Iron Mountain, where the strong prey on the weak and an older brother protects the younger until he fails: ďSince he was a boy, violence had trailed him like a scent.Ē
It is the past at Iron Mountain that is the crux of the novel, and the two brothers who were parted there: Michael and Julian. Michael is a stone killer, Julian adopted by a wealthy family, now an author and an artist, but emotionally damaged and in need of privacy and protection. Everything changes when Michael falls in love and embraces a new chapter in his life, a deadly and bloody massacre of enforcers beginning a chain reaction that reaches into the safe cocoon of Michaelís relationship and the North Carolina estate where Julian suddenly becomes a pawn. Hart has layered his novel with sub-plots and the agendas of various characters, long rivalries bred of a crime family in search of a reckoning, an assault on a peaceful country estate, where gangland violence overflows the gentility of politics and money and murder cannot be obscured by bribes and euphemisms.
Suspending belief, it is possible to mix these environments, different only in the accoutrements of gentility in North Carolina but just as ugly at the core. In a clash of cold-blooded killers and military-trained personal guards, the story of the two brothers is revealed, the painful beginnings of a complex family history and the unfortunate consequences of roads not taken. Between the brutality of torture and indiscriminate killing and the outrages perpetuated on helpless children at Iron Mountain, Hart builds a larger-than-life tale of love postponed, the loyalty of brothers, the sacrifice of blood, and the madness of those inured to violence as a solution.
Not too many likeable characters here, a killer who craves redemption in the love of a good woman, the fragile psyche of a younger brother, a senatorís wife fiercely protective of her adopted son, a cold-eyed, soulless killer set on revenge, the contrast of wealth and power and an old woman whose gleeful evil spreads like a poisonous miasma over the years. Hard, brutal, and often graphic, thereís little here that isnít riddled with malice, but through it all, the desperate love of two boys against the world is the indelible image that persists. The story is sometimes compelling - too ugly to look away - but interesting for its elaborate layers of deceit, threat and betrayal.
In the end, there is an uneasy peace - and a lot of dead bodies, logic sacrificed for action. An abundance of violence permeates every chapter, relentless from start to finish, whether in organized crime, behind the gates of a bucolic estate, or a brother lost to the terrors of mental illness. All pale in comparison to Iron House, where evil resides, feasting on the innocent, leeching hope even from those who escape its shadow. Hart proudly strides across one bridge too far after another, so itís up to the reader to decide if there is too much here to maintain believability.