John Hart: Iron House and The Last Child

This may be something of an odd review, but is a classic example of why doing readers advisory is so difficult: I liked both The Last Child and Iron House well enough to plow straight through them in a matter of hours, though in every respect the plot and characterization should have stopped me cold ten pages in. I don’t like thrillers or suspense. Up until now, I’ve preferred cozy mysteries while both of Hart’s books are about as icky as it’s possible to get, involving drug abuse, child abuse, serial killers and the crime world of New York.

The Last Child begins a year and a day after the supposed abduction (and presumed death) of the protagonist’s twin sister, Alyssa Merrimon. Johnny, the surviving twin, has been tracking the known pedophiles in the neighborhood in the hopes of finding his sister alive, despite the growing likelihood that she died months ago; this search runs parallel to the police investigation of same which has been put on the back burner after so long, although one member of the force continues to take an interest both in the case and in Johnny, largely on his own in the physical absence of his father and mental absence of his mother. (Johnny’s father has disappeared without a word, leaving his wife to the tender mercies of his boss, the wealthy but abusive and drug using local construction mogul.) The plot twist in this one did catch me by surprise, though I’ll not reveal it in an open review. (To partially answer the question that crops up in searches: no, it isn’t a happy ending.)

Iron House is marginally less plausible than The Last Child: Matthew, the scion of a Serbian crime boss ‘mercy kills’ his mentor as said mentor lies dying as a release from pain, then flees the group’s sphere of influence with his pregnant girlfriend, herself presumed dead in the bombing of the restaurant in which she works. Matthew, an orphan, goes to check up on his brother, who’d been adopted by a billionaire (Virginia) state senator and his arm candy trophy wife and arrives just in time to find said brother being sucked into mental illness as suspicious bodies keep cropping up on the estate. The plot twist in this book takes us beyond the underbelly of the crime rings in New York into the dilapidated poverty stricken backwoods of Virginia, with a few women of little finance, fewer morals and no education at all thrown in for leavening. This one does have a pretty unequivocal happy ending, at least compared to The Last Child.

Don’t read The Last Child if Magical Negroes bother you as a pivotal plot device; the deus ex machina African American character is borderline in this regard–he hears God, prompting him to be right where the boy in search of his sister needs to have a witness, among other things. Don’t read Iron House if misused medical diagnoses bug you; in this one, two of the characters have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but seem to me to have something closer to multiple personality disorder–they’ll both have “blackouts” and fugue states in which they exhibit different behavioral clusters. Given the characters’ histories, it’s entirely possible that they do have dissociation as a result of PTSD (or whatever the correct medical description is). Don’t read either if you like character development over action.

Characterization is a bit weak in both novels–the Rescued Girlfriend in Iron House seems to be there merely as a necessary plot device to necessitate the protagonist’s charging into a fraught situation…thereby requiring yet another character to come to HIS rescue and further complicate the plot thereby. I suspect that these two books being in the action driven suspense/thriller category, characterization would have to take a distant second to the plot convolutions, and these are very twisty turny plots indeed. Some people read for plot, some for place, some for personality, and these definitely fall into the first category. Overall, I’d guess that John Hart writes “dudelit” or whatever the equivalent to chicklit is for men; I can wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone who does like thrillers. The fact that I don’t like thrillers or suspense, but got sucked into these, would (I think) mean a good example of the genre!


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