Iron House

Iron House

by John Hart

Paperback(First Edition)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250007018
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 03/27/2012
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 84,967
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

John Hart is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, including The King of Lies, Down River and The Last Child. The only author in history to win the best novel Edgar Award for consecutive novels, John has also won the Barry Award and England's Steel Dagger Award for best thriller of the year. His books have been translated into twenty-nine languages and can be found in over fifty countries. A former criminal defense attorney, John has also worked as a banker, stockbroker, and apprentice helicopter mechanic. A husband and father of two, he spends his time in North Carolina and Virginia.

Read an Excerpt



Michael woke reaching for the gun he no longer kept by the bed. His fingers slid over bare wood, and he sat, instantly awake, his skin slick with sweat and the memory of ice. There was no movement in the apartment, no sounds beyond those of the city. The woman beside him rustled in the warm tangle of their sheets, and her hand found the hard curve of his shoulder. “You okay, sweetheart?”

Weak light filtered through the curtains, the open window, and he kept his body turned so she could not see the boy that lingered in his eyes, the stain of hurt so deep she had yet to find it. “Bad dream, baby.” His fingers found the swell of her hip. “Go back to sleep.”

“You sure?” The pillow muffled her voice.

“Of course.”

“I love you,” she said, and was gone.

Michael watched her fade, and then put his feet on the floor. He touched old scars left by frostbite, the dead places on his palms and at the tips of three fingers. He rubbed his hands together, and then tilted them in the light. The palms were broad, the fingers long and tapered.

A pianist’s fingers, Elena often said.

Thick and scarred. He would shake his head.

The hands of an artist …

She liked to say things like that, the talk of an optimist and dreamer. Michael flexed his fingers, and heard the sound of her words in his head, the lilt of her accent, and for that instant he felt ashamed. Many things had come through the use of his hands, but creation was not one of them. He stood and rolled his shoulders as New York solidified around him: Elena’s apartment, the smell of recent rain on hot pavement. He pulled on jeans and glanced at the open window. Night was a dark hand on the city, its skin not yet veined with gray. He looked down on Elena’s face and found it pale in the gloom, soft and creased with sleep. She lay unmoving in the bed they shared, her shoulder warm when he laid two fingers on it. Outside, the city grew as dark and still as it ever got, the quiet pause at the bottom of a breath. He moved hair from her face, and at her temple saw the thread of her life, steady and strong. He wanted to touch that pulse, to assure himself of its strength and endurance. An old man was dying, and when he was dead, they would come for Michael; and they would come for her, to make Michael hurt. Elena knew none of this, neither the things of which he was capable nor the danger he’d brought to her door; but Michael would go to hell to keep her safe.

Go to hell.

Come back burning.

That was truth. That was real.

He studied her face in the dim light, the smooth skin and full, parted lips, the black hair that ran in waves to her shoulder then broke like surf. She shifted in her sleep, and Michael felt a moment’s bleakness stir, a familiar certainty that it would get worse before it got better. Since he was a boy, violence had trailed him like a scent. Now, it had found her, too. For an instant, he thought again that he should leave her, just take his problems and disappear. He’d tried before, of course, not one time but a hundred. Yet, with each failed attempt, the certainty had only grown stronger.

He could not live without her.

He could make it work.

Michael dragged fingers through his hair, and wondered again how it had come to this place. How had things gone so sour so fast?

Moving to the window, he flicked the curtain enough to see down into the alley. The car was still there, black and low in the far shadows. Distant lamplight starred the windshield so that he could not see past the glass, but he knew at least one of the men who sat inside. His presence was a threat, and it angered Michael beyond words. He’d made his bargain with the old man, and expected the deal to be honored. Words still mattered to Michael.


Rules of conduct.

He looked a last time at Elena, then eased two silenced forty-fives from the place he kept them hidden. They were cool to the touch, familiar in his hands. He checked the loads and a frown bent his face as he turned from the woman he loved. He was supposed to be beyond this, supposed to be free. He thought once more of the man in the black car.

Eight days ago they’d been brothers.

Michael was at the door and almost out when Elena said his name. He paused for a moment, then lay the guns down and slipped back into the bedroom. She’d shifted onto her back and one arm was half-raised. “Michael…”

The name was a smile on her lips, and he wondered if she was dreaming. She shifted and a warm-bed smell rose in the room. It carried the scent of her skin and of clean hair. It was the smell of home and the future, the promise of a different life. Michael hesitated, then took her hand as she said, “Come back to bed.”

He looked into the kitchen, where he’d left the guns next to a can of yellow paint. Her voice had come as a whisper, and he knew that if he left, she would ride the slope back into sleep and not remember. He could slip outside and do the thing he did well. Killing them would likely escalate matters, and others would certainly take their place; but maybe the message would serve its purpose.

And maybe not.

His gaze traveled from Elena to the window. The night outside was just as black, its skin stretched tight. The car was still there, as it had been the night before and the night before that. They would not move against him until the old man died, but they wanted to rattle him. They wanted to push, and every part of Michael wanted to push back. He took a slow breath and thought of the man he desired to be. Elena was here, beside him, and violence had no place in the world they wished to make. But he was a realist first, so that when her fingers flexed on his, his thoughts were not just of hope, but of retribution and deterrence. An old poem rose in his mind.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …

Michael stood at a crossroad, and it all came down to choice. Go back to bed or pick up the guns. Elena or the alley. The future or the past.

Elena squeezed his hand again. “Love me, baby,” she said, and that’s what he chose.

Life over death.

The road less traveled.

*   *   *

The New York dawn came scorching hot. The guns were hidden and Elena still slept. Michael sat with his feet on the windowsill and stared down into the empty alleyway. They’d left at around five, backed from the alley and sounded a single blow of their horn as the sightlines collapsed. If their goal had been to wake or scare him, they’d failed miserably. He’d been out of the bed since three and felt great. Michael studied his fingertips, where flecks of yellow paint stained them.

“What are you smiling at, gorgeous?” Her voice surprised him and he turned. Elena sat up in bed, languorous, and pushed long, black hair from her face. The sheet fell to her waist and Michael put his feet on the floor, embarrassed to be caught in a moment of such open joy.

“Just thinking of something,” he said.

“Of me?”

“Of course.”


She was smiling, skin still creased. Her back arched as she stretched, her small hands fisted white. “You want coffee?” Michael asked.

She fell back against the pillows, made a contented sound, and said, “You are a magnificent creature.”

“Give me a minute.” In the kitchen, Michael poured warm milk in a mug, then coffee. Half and half, the way she liked it. Café au lait. Very French. When he came back, he found her in one of his shirts, sleeves rolled loosely on her narrow arms. He handed her the coffee. “Good dreams?”

She nodded and a glint sparked in her eyes. “One in particular seemed very real.”

“Did it?”

She sank into the bed and made the same contented noise. “One of these days I’m actually going to wake up before you.”

Michael sat on the edge of the bed and put a hand on the arch of her foot. “Sure you will, baby.” Elena was a late sleeper, and Michael rarely managed more than five hours a night. Her climbing from bed before him was a near impossibility. He watched her sip coffee, and reminded himself to notice the small things about her: the clear polish she preferred on her nails, the length of her legs, the tiny scar on her cheek that was her skin’s only imperfection. She had black eyebrows, eyes that were brown but could look like honey in a certain light. She was lithe and strong, a beautiful woman in every respect, but that’s not what Michael admired most. Elena took joy in the most insignificant things: how it felt to slip between cool sheets or taste new foods, the moment’s anticipation each time she opened the door to step outside. She had faith that each moment would be finer than the last. She believed that people were good, which made her a dash of color in a world blown white.

She sipped again, and Michael saw the exact moment she noticed the paint on his hands. A small crease appeared between her brows. The cup came away from her lips. “Did you paint it already?”

She tried to sound angry but failed, and as he shrugged an answer to the question he could not keep the smile from touching every part of his face. She’d envisioned them painting it together—laughter, spilled paint—but Michael couldn’t help it. “Too excited,” he said, and thought of the fresh yellow paint on the walls of the tiny room down the hall. They called it a second bedroom, but it was not much larger than a walk-in closet. A high, narrow window was paned with rippled glass. Afternoon light would make the yellow glow like gold.

She put the coffee down and pushed back against the bare wall behind her. Her knees tented the sheet, and she said, “Come back to bed. I’ll make you breakfast.”

“Too late.” Michael rose and went back into the kitchen. He had flowers in a small vase. The fruit was already cut, juice poured. He added fresh pastry and carried in the tray.

“Breakfast in bed?”

Michael hesitated, almost overwhelmed. “Happy Mother’s Day,” he finally managed.

“It’s not…” She paused, and then got it.

Yesterday, she’d told him she was pregnant.

Eleven weeks.

*   *   *

They stayed in bed for most of the morning—reading, talking—then Michael walked Elena to work in time to get ready for the lunch crowd. She wore a small black dress that accented her tan skin and dark eyes. In heels, she stood five-seven and moved like a dancer, so elegant that beside her Michael looked angular and rough, out of place in jeans, heavy boots, and a worn T-shirt. But this was how Elena knew him: rough and poor, an interrupted student still hoping for a way back to school.

That was the lie that started everything.

They’d met seven months ago on a corner near NYU. Dressed to blend in and carrying heavy, Michael was on a job and had no business talking to pretty women, but when the wind took her scarf, he caught it on instinct and gave it back with a flourish that surprised him. Even now, he had no idea where it came from, that sudden lightness, but she laughed at the moment, and when he asked, she gave him her name.

Carmen Elena Del Portal.

Call me Elena.

She’d said it with amusement on her lips and a fire in her eyes. He remembered dry fingers and frank appraisal in her glance, an accent that bordered on Spanish. She’d tucked an unruly strand of hair behind her right ear and waited with a reckless smile for Michael to offer his name in return. He almost left, but did not. It was the warmth in her, the utter lack of fear or doubt. So, at two fifteen on a Tuesday, against everything he’d ever been taught, Michael gave her his name.

His real one.

The scarf was silk, and very light to land with such force on two lives. It led to coffee, then more, until emotion came in its wildness, and the coming found him unprepared. Now here he was, in love with a woman who thought she knew him, but did not. Michael was trying to change, but killing was easy. And quitting was hard.

Halfway to work, she took his hand. “Boy or girl?”

“What?” It was the kind of thing normal people asked, and Michael was dumbfounded by the question. He stopped walking, so that people veered around them. She tilted her head.

“Do you hope it’s a boy or a girl?”

Her eyes shone with the kind of contentment he’d only read about in books; and looking at her then was like looking at her on the first day they’d met, only more so. The air held the same blue charge, the same sense of light and purpose. When Michael spoke, the words came from the deepest part of him. “Will you marry me?”

She laughed. “Just like that?”


She put a palm on Michael’s cheek, and the laughter dwindled. “No, Michael. I won’t marry you.”


“Because you’re asking me for the wrong reasons. And because we have time.” She kissed him. “Lots of time.”

That’s where she was wrong.

*   *   *

Elena worked as the hostess for an expensive restaurant called Chez Pascal. She was beautiful, spoke three languages, and at her request, the owner had hired Michael, eight days ago, to wash dishes. Michael told her that he’d lost his other job, that he needed to fill the days before he found a new one or the student loan finally came through, but there was no other job, no student loan, just two more lies in a sea of thousands. But Michael needed to be there, for while no one would dare touch him while the old man breathed, Elena was under no such protection. They’d kill her for the fun of it.

Two blocks from the restaurant, Michael said, “Have you told your family?”

“That I’m pregnant?”


“No.” Emotion colored her voice—sadness and something dark. Michael knew that Elena had family in Spain, but she rarely spoke of them. She had no photographs, no letters. Someone had called once, but Elena hung up when Michael gave her the phone; the next day, she changed the number. Michael never pushed for answers, not about family or the past. They walked in silence for several minutes. A block later, she took his hand. “Kiss me,” she said, and Michael did. When it was done, Elena said, “You’re my family.”

At the restaurant door, a blue awning offered narrow shade. Michael was slightly in front, so he saw the damage to the door in time to turn Elena before she saw it, too. But even with his back to the door, the image stayed in his mind: splintered wood, shards of white that rose from the mahogany stain. The grouping was head-high and tight, four bullet holes in a three-inch circle, and Michael could see how it went down. A black car at the curb, gun silenced. From Elena’s apartment, the drive was less than six minutes, so it probably happened just after five this morning. Empty streets. Nobody around. Small caliber, Michael guessed, something light and accurate. A twenty-two, maybe a twenty-five. He leaned against the door and felt splinters through his shirt, a cold rage behind his eyes. He took Elena’s hand and said, “If I asked you to move away from New York, would you do it?”

“My job is here. Our lives…”

“If I had to go,” he tried again, “would you come with me?”

“This is our home. This is where I want to raise our child…” She stopped, and understanding moved in her face. “Lots of people raise babies in the city…”

She knew of his distrust for the city, and he looked away because the weight of lies was becoming too much. He could stay here and risk the war that was coming, or he could share the truth and lose her. “Listen,” he said, “I’m going to be late today. Tell Paul for me.” Paul owned the restaurant. He parked in the alley, and had probably not seen the door.

“You’re not coming in?”

“I can’t right now.”

“I got you this job, Michael.” A spark of rare anger.

Michael showed the palm of his hand, and said, “May I have your keys?”

Unhappy, she gave him the set Paul let her use. He opened the restaurant door and held it for her. “Where are you going?” she asked.

Her face was upturned and still angry. Michael wanted to touch her cheek and say that he would kill or die to keep her safe. That he would burn the city down. “I’ll be back,” he told her. “Just stay in the restaurant.”

“You’re being very mysterious.”

“I have to do something,” he replied. “For the baby.”


He placed his hand on the plane of her stomach and pictured the many violent ways this day could end. “Really,” he said.

And that was truth.


Copyright © 2011 by John Hart

Reading Group Guide

1. The story begins with a vivid depiction of Michael and Julian's childhood at the Iron Mountain Home for Boys, and yet we don't find out the truth about Abigail's childhood until the climax of the book. How did your assumptions about Abigail change as the truth unfolded?

2. The crux of this story is Michael's outlook on fatherhood as a new beginning, a chance for happiness and a moral life previously unavailable to him. Do you think this kind of event can fundamentally change a person - both within the context of the book and in your own experience?

3. In his determination to protect Abigail, Jessup is willing to do almost anything, up to and including breaking the law. Is he right to do so? Why does Jessup care so deeply for Abigail?

4. Throughout the book several characters are haunted by things they've done in the past, though they often acted at the coercion of others and not of their own volition. How does this change your judgment of that character's actions? Examples: Julian is pushed to the brink by the torments of unmonitored and violent bullies at Iron House. Michael finds the only father figure he'll ever know, but is forced to take the lives of others in order to win his approval.

5. There are few characters in Iron House who had the privilege of a traditional childhood. How are the main characters shaped in different ways by their pasts?

6. Explore the different parent-child relationships in the story. How does each relationship evolve throughout the course of the novel? Are there any "good" parents in this story?

7. Given the things he's done, is Michael capable of a moral existence? Does he have a religious faith? Was he ever a moral man? Is he, indeed, more than the things he's done?

8. Psychological disorder figures prominently in Iron House. Some characters are aided by others who recognize their issues and attempt to help them. But there are also cases of unchecked malady, as in Jimmy's uncontrollable violence. How does psychological disorder function in the larger story?

9. Jimmy's feelings for Michael are powerful yet ambiguous. What does he really feel and why?

10. There are significant differences between the way Abigail, Jessup, Julian, and Victorine treat psychological disease. Is this a reflection of the respective age of the characters, and the perception of psychological disorder in which each generation was raised?

11. Was Michael right to let Arabella Jax live? What were his reasons for doing so and were they morally correct?

12. Given all that's transpired, can Michael and Elena be truly happy together?

13. If you've read some or all of John Hart's earlier books, how do you see Iron House in relation to them?

14. How do you feel about the resolution of Iron House?

Customer Reviews

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Iron House 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 180 reviews.
grumpydan More than 1 year ago
Michael and Julian are brothers who suffered the pain and cruelty of an inept orphanage. Michael runs away from the orphanage after killing one of his brother's tormentors and they become estranged for over twenty years. Julian is adopted and is soon living with the wealthy family of a senator. Michael while living on the streets is picked up by a mob boss and is trained to be a ruthless killer. When the mob boss dies, so will Michael's connection to him and his family wants Michael dead. And they will stop at nothing to kill him. Meanwhile, Julian had suffered one of many breakdowns and cannot deal with his own demons. The senator wants to keep it a secret, but Michael wants to find out the truth. There are a variety of plot lines, that are woven together to make for superb story. With so much going on, this book is intense and emotional. It is a story of a brother's love from one another and how the past has a hold on one's present.
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
After suffering all manner of indignities as orphans Michael and his younger brother Julian must now suffer the loss of each other when a murder is committed and a culprit must be spared. Now more than twenty years have passed and Michael once again finds it necessary to shield Julian only this time the stakes are much higher for both brothers and as time progresses and the body count is mounting, damning secrets are revealed, secrets that go back to the beginning, back to "Iron House". This very well written thriller will leave a definite taste of noir on your tongue as our author gives us his main protagonist who's just as much if not more villain than hero. His plot could be straight out any mob tale du jour complete with no necked body guards and no nonsense killers and beside one small plot dot that didn't fit for me the story line was flawless. He uses a full range of dialogue that matches his mix of characters, from street thugs of New York to the indigent hill people of North Carolina to the rolling estate of a politician and his wife. Each of Mr. Hart's characters is imperative to the story, and each play their part so well that his readers will feel the torture of Elena, the grief of Michael and the tenuous line on sanity of Julian and Abigail. This is a love story, a tragedy, a drama and a thriller all wrapped up in one and each of these themes are performed to perfection. There are scenes that are disturbing as this is not a read for the feint of heart, but they're masked well enough to not put off any but the most squeamish of readers. Be prepared for an adventure, an edge of your seat, nail biting, breath stealing roller coaster ride that will leave you winded to say the least, but glad you read it non the less. If you haven't read John Hart start now, if you have you'll continue to rave as Iron House will be your next Must Read.
MsObie More than 1 year ago
I Loved it! WOW! This was my first John Hart book, and I will definitely look for his previous works. I got this book through Goodreads first reads giveaway. I must admit I wasn't expecting to find myself cheering for a someone like Michael, conisdering his line of business, but that's exactly what happened. The main characters were so well written--cracked but not broken, flawed but loyal.
shayrp76 More than 1 year ago
Iron House John Hart ISBN: 978-0-312-38034-2 Release: July 12, 2011 432 pages Fiction $25.99/29.99 Can. Michael is a man with a dangerous past. He is a man who wants a brighter future, but with the past fast on his trail that future is crumbling before it can begin. Michael is good at one thing, and that's the thing he is trying to escape, killing. He will have to do a lot of it to reach that future, but that's also the thing that will destroy it. Choices and sacrifices will be made for the sake of something he holds dear, family. This one took me awhile to get into. It started out reading like a Hollywood plot I have watched many times (which is why I won't say much about the plot so not to give it away). About midway through it got my attention more. For one thing the pace of action picked up, but also more of a back story started showing through. When I finished the book I was left feeling really good about it overall. My first personal complaint is that I thought it started out slow. From the description I was expecting it to be action packed from the beginning. Another one is that I felt a character that should have been developed more (Michael's brother, since a lot of plot revolves around him) was left in the shadows. I really wanted to get to know him better. Plus, the outcomes were pretty predictable. Mr. Hart did surprise me with one thing and for that I give him a lot of credit. Otherwise I really enjoyed the book once the pace picked up and the plot thickened. There were some intriguing side stories to enhance the original plot and a dysfunctional family story that is realistic and relatable for some readers. When I closed the book for the final time I could imagine what life would like for the characters.
Sara_BethTN More than 1 year ago
One is defined neither by his past nor the sum of his actions, but by what he chooses to do at present. This book is an edge-of-your-seat type thriller, but with the kind of message usually seen only in the "classics".
The_hibernators More than 1 year ago
Iron House is a beautifully written mystery/suspense novel that delves into the psychological effects of a childhood of violence and abuse. Michael is an orphan who, after running away from a violent scene at an orphanage, grows up to be an enforcer for a powerful mobster. When he falls in love with a beautiful waitress and retires from organized crime, he is suddenly thrown into a violent mystery leading him to explore things he had left behind. Despite my need to suspend disbelief a few times (and to frown upon a few clichés), I feel that Hart kept up the action (and mystery) throughout the book, making for an engaging read. This is an excellent book for people who enjoy mystery/thrillers (assuming they don’t mind violence).
heavyheel More than 1 year ago
a dark wonderful book. Hart never fails to draw you into his world. Buy and read, you won't be disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was the last of the John Hart books that I read after getting back into reading reading again after quite a break, and I was not disapointed. I like the way he writes and I really like what he did with this story.. very enjoyable. I think this may be the best that he has done, but I look forward to what he comes out with next.
Carrie Russell More than 1 year ago
Captures you throught the book.
IrishlassFL More than 1 year ago
I am a huge fan of John Harts writing...but, in this book, there was just too much violence and gore...I had a really hard time finishing the story...
Bookish1KP More than 1 year ago
An excellent read. John Hart is a master story teller!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This wonderfully written book was by far one of the best I have read in years! The characters come alive and you follow their journeys with each gripping moment. Absolutely loved it!!
DMBJS More than 1 year ago
John Hart has become one of my favorite writers. I have read all of his books and they never disappoint. Iron House is by far the best. John Hart has twists throughout this story and brings it all together so perfectly in the end. The bond between the two brothers is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.
Brudon More than 1 year ago
I am over half way through this book and I can't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is well written and suspenseful. It pulls you in from the beginning and you won't be able to put it down. Highly recommend.
maxMS More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was thrilling, interesting, and a real page turner. Author wove a very clever plot. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It took me a while to start this book, then when I started it I couldn't put it down. The subject matter is difficult and there are some rather grusome things that happen so if you are looking for a light read this isn't for you. I read John Hart King of Lies last summer so when I found he had another book I had to give it a chance. His writing style is simple and easy to understandnot what you would expect with the subject matter. This is not for laying on the beach but I will read more of his books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent. Enjoyed every minute of it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book that grabs you and won't let you go. I didn't want the story to end! I wanted more. The Last Child was my favorite but this is running a close second. Read the book - you won't regret it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love this book and all the other by him also
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Instantly captivating, Hart paints a complicated picture spanning decades.I will be reading more from this talented author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Runs along side him and helps him keep his balence. Mura
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Tacota! No!" She bursts out of the bushes and helps him to camp.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago