Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Iron House (Audio)

At the Iron Mountain Home for Boys, there was nothing but time. Time to burn and time to kill, time for two young orphans to learn that life isn’t won without a fight. Julian survives only because his older brother, Michael, is fearless and fiercely protective. When tensions boil over and a boy is brutally killed, there is only one sacrifice left for Michael to make: He flees the orphanage and takes the blame with him.

For two decades, Michael has been an enforcer in New York’s world of organized crime, a prince of the streets so widely feared he rarely has to kill anymore. But the life he’s fought to build unravels when he meets Elena, a beautiful innocent who teaches him the meaning and power of love. He wants a fresh start with her, the chance to start a family like the one he and Julian never had. But someone else is holding the strings. And escape is not that easy. . . .

The mob boss who gave Michael his blessing to begin anew is dying, and his son is intent on making Michael pay for his betrayal. Determined to protect the ones he loves, Michael spirits Elena—who knows nothing of his past crimes, or the peril he’s laid at her door— back to North Carolina, to the place he was born and the brother he lost so long ago. There, he will encounter a whole new level of danger, a thicket of deceit and violence that leads inexorably to the one place he’s been running from his whole life: Iron House. -- Macmillan Audio

It's been almost a year since I won an audio copy of IRON HOUSE by John Hart from Sandy at You've GOTTA read this, but I finally got around to listening this action-packed novel. While it didn't take me an entire year to listen to this fourteen hour book, it did take longer than I expected. IRON HOUSE was my car book so I could only listen to it when I was by myself in the car (which wasn't all that often.) And let me tell you, this book was gruesome and gritty and most definitely not a kid-friendly story!

It is extremely difficult to summarize what happened in IRON HOUSE in just a paragraph or two. This book had some major action going on, and many different characters and story lines. In fact, I had problems keeping everyone and everything straight, but that could have been a function of listening to this book in widely spaced intervals. The book mainly takes place in present-day New York City and North Carolina, but it also has flashbacks to twenty years earlier. In addition, since there are so many twists it's hard to describe the book without giving away some spoilers.

But I'll try... Michael and Julian are brothers who grew up in horrific conditions in a North Carolina orphanage called Iron House. Michael is the stronger of the two and has always protected Julian to the best of his ability even from a set of bullies. When a tragic event occurs one day at the orphanage, Michael is forced to flee to fend for himself, while Julian is soon thereafter adopted by Abigail Vane, the wife of a North Carolina Senator. The sensitive Julian ends up becoming a famous children's author while Michael becomes a killer involved with the mob.

When Michael falls in love and discovers that he is going to become a father, he decides to leave behind his violent past; however, it's not as easy as he had hoped. Michael is involved in a string of violent events and he ends up trying to hide back in North Carolina. Once he is there, he stumbles into an even bigger mess surrounding his and his brother's past. Michael not only has to fight for his life, but he also has to fight to save the ones he loves.

I'm kind of wishy-washy about IRON HOUSE. On one hand, I appreciated the complexity of the story and how many twists and turns there were; however, I also thought that there was almost too much going on in the story. (Maybe it's just me because most of the reviews for this book were stellar, and it's possible that I would have followed the threads better if I had read the novel.) In addition, Sandy mentioned in her review that she had issues with the dialogue, and I have to agree. Sometimes I found myself shaking my head (or even laughing out loud) at what the characters were saying... especially the secondary (and less developed) ones.

What I did really enjoy about this novel was the character of Michael. I thought he was fascinating and well-developed. Don't get me wrong... Michael was a brutal killer -- he even had the blood of a few dead bodies on his hands after he supposedly left the mob. But I found that I loved him and I was rooting for him! Michael was so complex and I loved how he was torn between his past and the present. I appreciated his struggle to leave his past behind and start a new life while also trying to "fix" things for his brother Julian. Michael's moral ambiguity definitely gave me a few things to think about.

IRON HOUSE was read by Scott Sowers who is supposedly a major player in audiobook narration -- I've even heard of him. Of course, it's the first time that I've listened to Mr. Sowers narrate a novel, but I'm sure it won't be the last. Overall, I thought he did a good job with his presentation, and I enjoyed his gravelly voice. I also enjoyed how he used a variety of accents and tones for each of the different characters. My only issue would be that I'm not sure all of his North Carolina accents were spot-on. But I think his convincing portrayal of the characters, especially Michael, off-set any little gripe I had about a few words.

I was a little surprised to find that there is a reading guide for IRON HOUSE. It's not exactly your typical book club pick, but it does delve into some pretty heavy issues (aside from all of the violence and bloodshed!) I always thing about books in the context of female book clubs, but there are lots of male ones out there too, so IRON HOUSE might be perfect for them. Some of the topics explored include mental illness, family dynamics, loyalty, revenge, morality, forgiveness, and redemption.

I enjoyed IRON HOUSE but I won't go so far as to say that I loved it. I think fans of John Hart will probably be pleased, but I think new-comers might want to start with one of his earlier novels.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


Serena said...

The name Iron House is scary enough on its own, given that it's an orphanage. Thanks for the review.

bermudaonion said...

Hm, John Hart is extremely popular around here - maybe because of the setting? I'd like to try one of his books because everyone talks about them at the events I attend.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I had some issues with Sowers as a narrator for The Last Child. I got really hung up on his word pronunciations, which were just bizarre. I actually read this one in print, and I think we are on the same page. It was complicated and the dialogue was strange, but the action was fast-paced and had a fascinating plot.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love John Hart, but agree this wasn't my favorite!