Monday, June 14, 2010

Review: Heart of Lies by M.L. Malcolm

Within seconds the laws of physics ruthlessly eviscerated the expectations of humanity. The first floor of Sincere's was obliterated. One side of Wing On collapsed.  A thousand people died instantly, or bled quickly to death.  The hysterical survivors, insane with fear, screamed and stampeded through the forest of broken glass and dismembered bodies.  Outside the corpse of the traffic policeman dangled from the electric wires overhead, like a gruesome marionette, directing the dance of death beneath him.  A broken water main sent a bloody waterfall cascading into the street.  (from Heart of Lies, page 222 in the ARC)

In Heart of Lies, inspired by her husband's family, M.L. Malcolm spins a morality tale of sorts centered on Leo Hoffman, a Hungarian whose ear for languages and desire to become a success in the aftermath of World War I cause him to get tangled in a web of crime.  By agreeing to go on an errand for the chief of police of Budapest, Leo unintentionally gets involved in an international counterfeiting scheme that leaves one man dead and forces him to flee to Shanghai, where it is said that people in trouble can start again.  He has to leave so quickly that he can't say goodbye to Martha, the young German woman he'd just met and with whom he immediately fell in love.

With the help of a stolen necklace, Leo becomes a very wealthy man, and soon he is able to send for Martha.  The two rub elbows with the most important people in Shanghai, yet they have eyes only for each other.  But Leo's newfound wealth is tied to some shady people, and his past threatens to ruin the seemingly wonderful life he has built.  The Japanese invasion of Shanghai and Hitler's increasing power in Europe leave Leo and Martha wondering where to turn when everything comes crashing down.

Heart of Lies is an exciting novel that takes readers on an adventure to Hungary, Paris, Shanghai, and New York from the post-World War I period to the early days of World War II.  I enjoyed Malcolm's writing style and found the book hard to put down.  Although the criminal aspect early on wasn't very developed, the story picked up when Leo began to amass his fortune in Shanghai.  Leo is far from saintly, but I empathized with him as he struggled to do what was best for his family and keep himself alive at the same time.  Martha seemed a bit flighty and I felt that her character could have been fleshed out a bit more, but her unconditional love for Leo was touching.

Even though I really enjoyed Heart of Lies, there were a couple of things that didn't work for me.  The point of view would shift for a couple of paragraphs, then shift back, with the thoughts of a character not in the scene suddenly interjected before focusing once again on the character who is the subject of the scene.  Also, there were a few scenes that weren't necessary, particularly the section told from Martha's point of view after Leo leaves for Shanghai without warning.  Since the book mostly is about Leo and doesn't focus as closely on Martha anywhere else in the book, these scenes seemed out of place and the events that transpire within them could have been inserted elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Malcolm does an admirable job of both telling Leo's story and setting it in the midst of war and the struggle to survive on all fronts.  Heart of Lies is a captivating novel about a man who can't seem to outrun his past mistakes, and readers will find themselves shaking their heads at Leo's predicaments and feeling his pain.  The interview with Malcolm at the back of the book suggests that a sequel is in the works, and while I don't believe one is necessary, it would be interesting to see what comes next for these characters.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in the Heart of Lies tour.  To check out the rest of the tour dates, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Heart of Lies from HarperCollins for review purposes.  I am an Amazon affiliate.

© 2010, Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not copy or reproduce content without permission.


Lisa said...

Sounds interesting but the flaws seem like things that might really put me off.

Mystica said...

I read a book sometime ago of someone who escaped to Shanghai and started over again and it was very good (just cant remember the name of the book but not this one!) This sounds interesting as well.

Serena said...

I hate when shifts in POV occur without warning and make it hard to tell who is talking.

Blodeuedd said...

Oh no, shifting POVS, sometimes that works, other times it annoys me to pieces

Darlene said...

Great review. This does sound like a good book despite some of the things not quite right.