In Hart’s latest (The Last Child, 2009, etc.) a vengeful ex-orphan tracks fellow former orphans, asylum not on offer.
Michael and Julian, brothers, abandoned as babies, lead lives of mounting desperation in a prototypically grim orphanage tucked away in the North Carolina high country. Iron Mountain Home for Boys has long sped past hardscrabble on its way to Dickensian, and the brothers have endured every manner of unkindness known to unprincipled orphanage management. Michael, 10, physically and temperamentally suited to vicissitude, can cope with Iron House’s horrors. Sensitive, painfully vulnerable Julian can’t. He falls victim to a particularly nasty quintet of bullies, who catch and torment him whenever his older brother is occupied elsewhere. Suddenly, events take an even darker turn, and Michael is forced to flee, leaving Julian unprotected. But not for long. Enter the elegant and very rich Abigail Vane, wife of U.S. Senator Randall Vane, who not only plucks Julian from Iron House but nurtures him lovingly all the years it takes for his career to blossom. When it does, Julian is an A-list, bestselling author. Meanwhile, Michael, too, finds a benefactor, though of a considerably different stripe. Respected almost as much as he’s feared, Otto Kaitlin is the powerful, high-profile rackets boss who recognizes in Michael a kindred spirit and takes him under his wing. Counseled by Kaitlin, Michael becomes an adroit, unregenerate killer, hell bent on a brilliant gangster future. But then Michael falls in love with a good woman, and all bets are off. Will he now seek some sort of redemption? Will the brothers finally reunite? Will Iron House be revisited so that the brutish five can get a well-deserved comeuppance? The plot twists and turns supply a full measure of answers, few of them unpredictable, most of them engulfed in gobs of gratuitous violence.
Two-time Edgar Award winner Hart, after three first-rate outings, is not at his best in what amounts to a soap opera for the macho set.