BookBrowse Reviews Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe

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Barbed Wire Heart

A Thriller

by Tess Sharpe

Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe X
Barbed Wire Heart by Tess Sharpe
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2019, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Tomp
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A brutal family drama where meth rules the land and one feisty heroine stands poised to inherit her father's world--shady dealings and all.

Deep in the woods of northern California, trees grow tall and thick, creating plenty of shadows and dark corners for secret dealings to take place. Barbed Wire Heart takes readers into this setting and explores the underbelly of a world most of us have never known. This is where Harley McKenna was born and trained for survival by her father, Duke, a meth dealer. She has an up-close knowledge of the land and the people who live on it.

Harley is 23 as she reflects on her life, narrating an unusual coming-of-age story. Harley takes us hour by hour, through a few tension-filled days as she attempts to put a final end to the decades-long battle between her father and a rival meth dealer, Carl Springfield. The reason for the feud: It was Carl who killed Harley's mother and the mother of her best friend, Will.

Interspersed with the current timeline are flashbacks of Harley's atypical childhood. The novel opens with the line: "I'm eight years old the first time I watch my daddy kill a man." It becomes apparent early on that this is no ordinary coming-of-age tale. The past and present are woven together, revealing a complicated situation, but the storylines are surprisingly easy to follow. We understand how Harley became a wily, confident, slightly ruthless young woman destined to inherit her father's extensive business of illegal dealings. We see what has brought her to this moment, enabling her to do the things she needs to accomplish.

The complicated relationship between Harley and her father is at the heart of this deftly plotted, action-packed novel. Duke is a powerful businessman. In addition to his underground drug and gun dealings, he owns several legitimate restaurants, bars, and hotels. He also provides personal loans to community members. Like him or not, he is instrumental in keeping the economy running in this corner of the woods. He clearly loves Harley more than anyone or anything else in the world; and is fiercely protective. But he is also a ruthless and violent man who drinks too much.

Duke works hard to protect Harley, keeping her close, teaching her at home, isolating her from the world at large. He eliminates any chance for her to have a normal childhood. Harley was born into this life and yet she struggles with the choices she's made. She follows a strict code of conduct for herself, knowing all the while, that she might have to break her own rules in order to stay alive. Despite the violence and immoral world Harley inhabits, she understands her power and influence and wants to do some good in the world. One of her priorities is taking care of the Ruby, a collection of forty vacation cottages she inherited from her mother and uses as a shelter for women and children. Helping the "Rubies," her nickname for the women at her shelter is one way she can make a positive difference.

The author, Tess Sharpe, has written for young adults, and though the content of this gritty, intensely feminist tales puts it firmly in adult territory, Harley is a character with a young adult sensibility. She is good and honorable to an extreme that challenges credulity and is far more hopeful and idealistic than most people with her experiences would be. This ensures that she is easy to root for, even when she starts crossing new lines.

Although well-written and building intense suspense, this novel is not for every reader. It's thoroughly violent and filed with heinous characters doing terrible things to each other. It reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino movie—using alternate timelines to tell an interwoven story where the bad guys are gruesomely punished and the good guys—or rather, gals—go through hell to get what they deserve.

Reviewed by Sarah Tomp

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in April 2018, and has been updated for the March 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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