Mia Geiger

Hart a unique voice of prose, suspense
By Mia Geiger
Special to The Denver Post

When you think of literature, thrillers don’t usually come to mind. But first-time author and former criminal defense attorney John Hart has wedded the two writing forms, creating a marriage of carefully crafted prose alongside have-to-keep-reading suspense.

“The King of Lies” tells the story of 35-year-old Jackson Workman “Work” Pickens, a North Carolina lawyer coping with his abusive father’s disappearance and later death.

When his father’s corpse is found 18 months after going missing, Work begins seeking answers. But when the will reveals his $15 million inheritance, Work soon becomes the prime suspect.

The tale takes place in the well- to-do cities of North Carolina, among old mansions and the snooty attitudes of “old money” toward those with “new” or little money.

While trying to uncover clues about his father’s murder, Work is trying to improve the life of his emotionally fragile sister, Jean, who works at a local pizza place and lives with her partner, Alex, a controlling, tough-as-nails woman who despises Work.

At the same time, the 30-ish and attractive Detective Mills, a no-nonsense, pit bull of a law enforcement officer who believes Work killed his father, is gathering evidence to arrest him. The verbal sparring matches between the two provide enough sparks to light fireworks.

Like the most endearing heroes, Work is flawed. He drinks too much, feels guilty about just about everything and lives his life in the shadow of his successful-though-ruthless father.

He’s existing in a state of despair: over his mother’s earlier death; his defense clients’ predicaments; his sister’s reluctance to talk to him; and his money-hungry, cold-hearted wife, Barbara, who cares more about what her rich friends think about her than the troubles her husband is enduring.

The author mixes in lyrically flowing phrasing with sometimes abrupt, frank and startling sentences that make for an unpredictable read. At other times you need to take a break to absorb a paragraph or to re-read it for its eloquence, as when Work drives up to his childhood home:

“I turned into the driveway, passed beneath crossed arms of sentinel trees, and so stepped back in time, my childhood around me like broken glass. Keys jingled and I sat in the silence that followed. I saw many things that no longer were: my first bike and toys, long gone to ruin; a father flush with early triumph; and my mother, alive, still happy, gazing at Jean’s questioning smile. I saw it all, unyellowed by time; then I blinked and it was gone, ashes in a sudden wind.”

Seemingly innocuous statements take on subtle meaning in the writer’s hands. He rarely states the obvious, choosing instead to paint nuances. For example, instead of Jean saying to Work, “I’ll call you when we get to Vermont,” she says “I’ll call you when we get where we’re going.”

Hart taps into his legal background to speckle the book with insider-type facts about the way lawyers and police do their jobs and the grim reality of prison life, adding to the believability of the story.

Punctuating the suspenseful novel is an illustration of the imprints that parents leave on their children, the strength of the bond between a brother and sister, and the impact of facing hard truths about one’s life and the people in it.

Hart has a deal with St. Martin’s Press, publisher of “King of Lies,” for two more books. For good reason. He’s an original voice in a crowded genre, a welcome addition to both the worlds of literature and suspense.

Mia Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.

 

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