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“You were a coward,” she lashed out.  “Think of all the people Hitler killed, people who were willing to die rather than disclaim their heritage.  You’re a liar and a coward!”

“I suppose it’s true that I am a liar and a coward,” he said, remaining calm in the face of her onslaught.  “I could have told the truth and been killed for it.  But I was never a religious man, Maddy.  Being labeled Jewish was a dangerous inconvenience.  That’s all I gave up.”

“Just like you gave me up, when I became inconvenient,” she spat out.

(from Heart of Deception, page 150 in the ARC)

I enjoyed M.L. Malcolm’s Heart of Lies despite its flaws, namely some undeveloped characters and unnecessary scenes, but I was so intrigued by the story of Leo Hoffman, who tries to do well but always finds himself embroiled in some sort of trouble, that I couldn’t wait to read the sequel, Heart of Deception (originally published as Deceptive Intentions).  The sequel picks up where the first one leaves off, and there’s enough of an explanation of the events of the first book that Heart of Deception can be read as a stand-alone novel.

Heart of Deception opens in 1942, with Leo, a Hungarian national, still acting as a spy for the Americans in the hopes of earning his citizenship so he can return to New York and be a true father to his daughter, Maddy, who lives in a boarding house owned by her best friend’s mother.  Having seen nothing of her father for a few years, Maddy can’t help but feel abandoned, and she still blames herself for her mother’s death during the Japanese invasion of Shanghai when she was just seven years old.  Maddy feels unloved and unwanted — though the O’Connors take good care of her — until her Aunt Bernice enters her life.  Bernice, still grieving the loss of her sister, doesn’t think much of Leo and doesn’t want Maddy to have anything to do with him.

Meanwhile, Leo is working undercover in Morocco as the Allies gear up for the invasion of North Africa, and then travels to France with the now-famous spy Christine Granville to rescue Jews from the Gurs internment camp.  However, the novel barely touches upon Leo’s espionage work during World War II, and his being Jewish and eventually captured by the Germans is glossed over despite the fact that they could have added much excitement and action to the story.

Malcolm follows these characters until 1963, and after the few chapters about Leo’s wartime activities, she shifts gears and focuses solely on Maddy — her on-again/off-again passion for the piano, her failed relationships, and her inability to find herself due to her troubled relationship with her father.

I find it difficult to write up my thoughts about this book because I thought the story was interesting, but I also felt that the writing was inconsistent and that too much time was spent on the more uninteresting (at least in my opinion) plot points.  The book opened beautifully and pulled me right into the story with the poetical description:

If the city of Tangier had been a woman, she would have been a whore, and a wealthy one.  Brazenly straddling the northwest tip of Africa, she brushed one of her sultry thighs up against the undulating waves of the turquoise Mediterranean Sea; the other unfolded west, perpetually teasing the unquenchable desire of the gray Atlantic Ocean.  (page 3 in the ARC)

Passages like that one were few in the remainder of the book, especially toward the end, when what could have been several captivating chapters about Maddy’s dangerous relationship with a man from her past is reduced to a few pages in which Malcolm simply tells us what happens, neatly tying up the loose ends in the process.  Additionally, there are some secondary characters that are given a great deal of importance in the beginning of the novel — namely Harry, who was in love with Maddy’s mom before she married Leo — only to disappear after they serve their purpose of loosely connecting some plot threads.

Even though I was disappointed that Heart of Deception wasn’t more about espionage during WWII and felt that it slowed down after Leo faded into the background, I liked it more than Heart of Lies and am not sorry I read it.  I empathized with Leo’s desire to be part of his daughter’s life and make up for lost time, and I felt bad for Maddy even when it seemed like she kept using her father as an excuse to make bad decisions.  Malcolm does a good job showing how the absence of a parental figure can damage a person’s self-esteem and how the need for passion and acceptance can get them into trouble.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate in the blog tour for Heart of Deception.  To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Heart of Deception from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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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 associate.

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

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