by evseymour

Some time ago, I started reading John Hart’s ‘The King of Lies’. Within chapters, I put the novel aside, not because it didn’t gel with me, not because I didn’t love it, but because the murder victim, Ezra Pickens, and father of the main protagonist was too similar in characterisation to the dead father in the novel I was writing. I didn’t want to be unduly influenced. On reflection, it was a bad move to pick up a piece of fiction when I was writing fiction myself. Usually, I read historical or straight non-fiction when writing. I don’t seem to suffer from reading other authors’ unpublished work each and every day because I have a kind of disconnect in my head when I have to analyse a novel, which doesn’t happen when I read purely for pleasure. So, with a heavy heart, I set it aside, and picked up and read books in other genres.

This week, I returned to ‘The King of Lies’. It was Hart’s murder mystery debut. For me, having read other work from this fine writer, it’s his most moving. Perhaps it was the subject matter, I don’t know. Basically, our main man, small town lawyer, ‘Work,’ is charged with his father’s murder, but Ezra Pickens was no ordinary dad. He left a legacy of family disaster behind him, including a bullied wife and psychologically damaged daughter. In short, he was not a nice man. Work has the fight of his life on his hands to defend his own case and prove his innocence. When Hart puts the squeeze on his main protagonist, he really suffers. Disturbing, credible and, at times gut wrenching, this atmospheric and claustrophobic story gripped from the outset.

What sets Hart’s work apart from other writers is his stunning characterisation. His understanding of people, how they behave, those small finely observed details, is on a whole new level to most writers. There is a recollection, quite early on, of the death of Work’s mother. It’s encapsulated in fourteen sentences and describes perfectly the immediate aftermath, after the police have gone, when three remaining family members, Work, his sister and father, are left to pick up the pieces. Pitch perfect, it rings of authenticity and blew me away. If I’m being honest, it was especially poignant because many years ago, almost to the very day, I lost my own mother and that overwhelming sense of loss has never left me. I doubt it ever will.

Hart’s writing resonates with deep emotional truth, which as a writer is hard to emulate. Prose is just beautiful and I often found myself reading a sentence twice to savour the words and the sentiment it contained. When writing it’s not a bad idea to find out what’s the worst thing that can happen to your main protagonist, and then ensure that it happens. In this regard, Hart’s novel ticks the box and every other. It doesn’t get much better than this. If you admire Dennis Lehane’s novels, you’ll love this author.