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Barbed Wire Heart

Review

Barbed Wire Heart

BARBED WIRE HEART is a strong and confident entry in the rural noir genre. Tess Sharpe is already well known in young adult fiction circles, so it isn’t quite accurate to call this a debut novel, particularly since her prose and storytelling chops are equal to many a veteran author.

Most of the story ping-pongs between the past and present of the narrator, Harley McKenna. The past takes place roughly between the ages of 8 and 20, told out of sequence but in the context of the book’s present, which is set over the course of three very difficult and dangerous days in the June of Harley’s twenty-something year. Harley is the scion of a rural Northern California crime family run under the iron fist of Duke McKenna. Duke has a reputation as a murderer, gunrunner and meth manufacturer. Harley has spent her childhood and adolescence being groomed to take over the business from her father, first as a collector for his multiple local business interests and more recently in other facets of the McKenna family business. Duke is spending more time away from his North County territory and in Mexico, ostensibly tending to family business south of the border.

"[T]he power of [Sharpe's] story is such that one cannot help but think that BARBED WIRE HEART is composed of equal parts fact and imagination, with perhaps a pound or two more of the former than of the latter."

The Springfield family is the largest competition to the McKennas. There is a long and deep animosity between the two clans, with uneasy alliances and grudgingly observed treaties keeping a fragile peace. It is during one of Duke’s absences that the Springfields begin a turf war with the potential to upend the truce and destroy the McKenna business dynasty, while gaining some measure of revenge against Duke by harming Harley for a number of her past transgressions.

Meanwhile, Harley is occupied with defending herself as well as a shelter she has constructed for battered and abused women and children in the area that is partially financed by an occasional skim off the proceeds of the family business. While under fire from a couple of different sides, she concocts what appears to be a mad scheme in which she will obtain retribution of her own against the Springfields, whose actions have earned them some long-awaited payback, but with the risk that she will destroy her father’s operation as well. The conclusion involves the threading of a sharp and dangerous needle, with potential ramifications for a second visit --- or more --- to North County.

Sharpe makes her home in rural Northern California, where she has set her dark adult fiction entry, and the power of her story is such that one cannot help but think that BARBED WIRE HEART is composed of equal parts fact and imagination, with perhaps a pound or two more of the former than of the latter. Those who are particularly fond of their characters shaded in deep gray, as opposed to black and white, will find much to love here, particularly with respect to the gritty protagonist, whose compassion is protected by right angles with sharp and bloody edges.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 16, 2018

Barbed Wire Heart
by Tess Sharpe

  • Publication Date: March 6, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1538744090
  • ISBN-13: 9781538744093