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The King of Lies - Review

THE KING OF LIES was Edgar nominated for Best First Novel, and the follow up DOWN RIVER won the Best Novel Edgar last year. Mr. Hart's track record is impressive.

THE KING OF LIES is at its core a family drama. The book opens with the discovery of the body of Ezra Pickens, the patriarch of a seriously maladjusted family. Left behind are a son and daughter who were abused by their father in equally dreadful ways. Each thinks the other is responsible for the murder. Work is the son, and it is with him that we discovery the tortured path of this family. It is here where one could use the over used phrase of Southern Gothic, but that would be cheat to imbue this book with kind of mysticism that doesn't suit the book. Family'a are just as screwed up North of the Mason-Dixon Line. Calling this Southern Gothic only serves to distance a reader from the palpable reality of THE KING OF LIES. The chief benefit of this tag is to be able to blurb William Faulkner's name, as if he is the only 'Southern' author of the last 75 years.

Work is a lawyer who has lived in his Daddy's shadow his whole life. Ezra has made sure of it. What I found most satisfying about the book was Mr. Hart though Work was exploring our place in a world that is all too often not of our making or choosing. The book is as much a crime story as it is a story about a man coming to grips with his life at long last. It is actually pretty inspiring to find a character that no longer believes that he needs to be stuck with an unhappy life with an unhappy wife. Part of crime fiction is that a character wallows in what he or she feels are unbreakable patterns and habits. What the book tackles equally as well is Work's feelings of selfishness about this brake from convention. He is both drawn to his chance at a new life and understandably terrified.

What works less well in the book is many of the female characters. For the first three quarters of the book we get four pretty thin caricatures of females. Work's wife is a shrill social climber, the childhood love interest is an indecisive cipher, the sister is an emotionally traumatized mess, the cop hunting Work is so dogmatic in her pursuit of him that she is unprofessional. The character traits suit the story and one can arguing a requirement of this kind of narrative fiction. But at times it felt as if this was being told us and not really shown to us. The hand of the writer forcing labels on his female characters. In the book's favor is that each of these women is given a moment or two in the book concluding chapters that help to justify their presence other than a few character descriptors. One wishes Mr. Hart would have taken more time earlier in the book.

That aside is it is easy to understand the huge amounts of praise being heaped on Mr. Hart. It is compelling stuff. His narrative style certainly allows the reader to become enveloped into a world were every day corruptions of the soul leave lasting effects.

Mr. Hart's third book, The Last Child, will be released on May 12th.

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