Iron House by John Hart

A complex tale of brotherly love, reunited by necessity two decades after being torn apart by murder and protection

Two young orphans, brothers in blood, but different in so many ways, grow up in a brutal institution. Michael, the elder and stronger, urges Julian, weak and sickly, to stand up for himself to the bullies that torment him when his brother is not there to defend him. Julian stabs one of his attackers to death, but Michael takes the blame and flees to the streets of New York and straight into organised crime. Two decades later Michael has fallen in love and wants out of the mob, who’s leader, the man who had accepted him as a son is dying. The two brothers must reunite to discover their past to save them all.

When this popped through my letterbox to land on the top of the junk mail nestling there, I considered myself lucky to get it as my first ever review. I had previously read John Hart’s novel ‘Down River’ a couple of years back, and had enjoyed it, although he appears to be better known for ‘The Last Child’, which as yet I haven’t had the pleasure of.

Therefore, although I expected it to be an easy read, I found it at times tougher than I expected. I struggled to really like the characters, in truth, and found it a bit stop-start in places, possibly being a little too complex in what it tried to achieve. It may sound strange, but I came away after 420 pages knowing that I felt nothing for Julian, feeling Abigail was a touch too vague and that Michael I felt as though was a bit bland and I could have done with knowing more about. How I could feel that about a main character in that length of book I can’t explain, but I did. I know that I expected to knock this off within a week of receiving it, but it took me the better part of two, backing up my gut feelings.

I don’t want to sound too critical, as I like and respect John Hart as an author, and therefore I wouldn’t want to put anyone off too much. The ending still surprised me in a way, which is good as its like finding that last cherry in a seemingly empty corner of your Mullerlight, and the story and plot line is quite a good one, but something doesn’t seem quite right.

I think what it is, is that the real feeling that I had when finishing was that it was a very hard book to write. Its very complex the way its brought together, sometimes in ways that at first I thought I could drive a tank through but upon reflection after thinking about how I would have felt about it if writing it, I can see the thought plan involved. It also involves some sensitive issues regarding illness which can’t have been easy to have put into words.

Upon reading the acknowledgements, the author expressed his doubts whilst writing it: ‘nothing was working as I hoped; the pages fought me’. (I think we’ve all been there!) He explained how it was only his editorial and publishing staff that talked him into carrying on with the novel, and although obviously well intentioned, it did read to me as though he wasn’t one hundred per cent certain of the project itself, adding to the somewhat disjointed feel in my eyes.

Its all in the eye of the beholder and this may well be the only non-positive (rather than negative) review of this book that you read, but if its your first dip into the world of John Hart, personally I’d suggest ‘Down River’ or, from the reviews I’ve read, ‘The Last Child’. If it makes any sense at all, I’d say that this is a safe bet for an established author, whereas if this was a debut novel, I’m not convinced it would make it.  Remembering the album reviews of the rock bands of my youth: ‘for fans only’ would be my advice.

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