Barbed Wire Heart: A Thriller
- By Tess Sharpe
- Grand Central Publishing
- 416 pp.
- Reviewed by Marvin McIntyre
- March 23, 2018
A kick-ass heroine dominates this violent, riveting tale.
Written in first person, Tess Sharpe’s Barbed Wired Heart faced the challenge of engaging me from the start. Most thrillers that I’ve read speak from the third person, and I believe that the degree of difficulty increases dramatically when the author deviates from that voice. However, if your opening sentence is, “I’m eight years old the first time I watch my daddy kill a man,” you might just be able to do it.
She did. Killed it. This is one of the best books I’ve read.
“I’m twelve the day I pull a gun on someone for the first time.” These unique chapter openings are liberally sprinkled throughout the book, a strategy that not only feels new, but is also compelling. The pacing is extraordinary, and changing from past to present feels like only a slight turn on the radio dial: absolutely no static.
One of the objectives of today’s thriller genre is to incorporate strong females into the plot. No longer is it the predictable male hero coming to the rescue against a typical male antagonist. Let me assure you, Sharpe’s heroine checks all the boxes. After her mother is burned to death by a psychopath, Harley McKenna is raised by her brutal father to kill or be killed.
Each character in this riveting novel feels authentic and necessary. Harley’s father, Duke, has moments of tenderness with his young daughter, but with the rest of his world, he is a ruthless dictator presiding over a meth-making, gun-running, loan-sharking empire. His justice is immediate and terminal, but he’s taught her, trained her, and tortured her, and Harley backs down from no man, not even him.
In earlier times, it seemed like the recipe for creating a strong female character was that she had to be gorgeous, use her “feminine wiles” to accomplish her goals, and then ultimately be a foil for the male hero. Well, Tess Sharpe rewrote the script. Harley-girl is a warrior, a Wonder Woman without super powers. Her strength comes from her fearlessness, her cunning, and her resolve.
Sharpe’s message is found not in dialogue, but in a few telling sentences near the end of this compelling read: “And I can see it in his eyes, the moment he realizes that he’s screwed. That he’s nothing. That there’s nothing stronger than a woman who’s risen from the ashes of some fire that a man set.”
Barbed Wire Heart may not be for the faint of heart, for violence is served as the appetizer, main course, and dessert. Yet it’s impossible not to root for a character whose mission is to protect abused women, and it’s impossible not to thank the author for introducing us to her.
Marvin McIntyre is the number-one-rated financial advisor in Washington, DC, by both Barron’s Magazine and Forbes. In addition, he has written three well-received financial and political thrillers.