Review: Heart of Lies by M.L. Malcolm

09 Jun

Heart of Lies: A NovelMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

(I don’t think this includes any true spoilers, but it wanders closer to that line than I usually do, since I really want to talk about how the book changes from beginning to end. I don’t think that anything I say will affect your enjoyment of the book, but as I’m usually very careful not to give away where a book goes, I thought I’d include this comment.)

From the publisher:

Meet Leo Hoffman, a dashing young Hungarian born with a gift for languages. After his dreams for the future are destroyed by WWI, he attempts to use his talent to rebuild his life, only to find himself inadvertently embroiled in an international counterfeiting scheme. When he discovers he’s wanted across the European continent for a host of crimes including murder, he escapes with his lover to Shanghai, taking with him a stolen treasure that will prove to be his salvation or his death warrant. But he soon learns that the gangsters who control the decadent city do not intend to let him outrun his past; and when the Japanese invade, one wrong move costs him everything he holds dear.

I read Heart of Lies in two sittings, and really enjoyed it.  It’s a well told, compelling story.

It seemed to me that Heart of Lies was two different stories. The first part was an adventure, as Leo finds his way from Hungary to Shanghai, meeting the love of his life along the way. Leo’s establishing himself in Shanghai (and the risks he takes to do so) belongs to that part of the book.

In this part of the story, the plot was compelling, as was the writing. The characters fell a little flat for me, particularly Martha. I don’t believe in love at first sight, and Martha and Leo’s relationship seemed to be based on her beauty and his charm. I wasn’t sold on this supporting them through the story, as it did. Overall, I think I should have found Leo more interesting than I did at that time.  I think Martha just wasn’t that interesting of a person, which is too bad.

The second section of the book seemed to start when Leo settles in Shanghai. His adventures become more subtle as he takes on a new role in the local society. There is larger scale chaos from the wars and politics of the era, and it certainly has an effect on the events of the novel, but it isn’t the focus.

I liked Heart of Lies best when it focused on Leo’s daughter Maddy. Here, her character takes precedence over the plot.  Once the book starts to focus on her, the transition from the first part of the book to the second is finished.  Maddy is the one that I want to know more about.   Is she ever able to develop her musical gifts?  Where does her life take her after the events of the novel?

Heart of Lies is beautifully written. This is one of the aspects that I didn’t fully appreciate. I think that was a strength of this book, and I simply don’t read books for the words, I use the words as delivery for characters and a plot.

Overall, I found this an interesting, intricate, well written book.

Heart of Lies has quite a bit in common with The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell.  It’s been 2 1/2 years since I read it, so the details are fuzzy in my mind, but I wondered if the characters in there knew the characters in Heart of Lies. It seems that the clever businessman, who could make money appear from nowhere, was a common type in Shanghai in the 1920s and 30s. They both had daughters they doted on but were willing to live apart from as well.

The section focusing on Maddy also reminded me of another book, but one so long lost in the mists of memory as to be unrecognizable. It might be a Madeleine L’Engle book, but not one of her better known ones.

I’d recommend this book to those interested in good writing and a good story, particularly one set in a slightly unusual setting.

I’ve got a quick BEA story to tell.  Feel free to skip this if you are only interested in the book.

My memory lives in my calendar, and I hadn’t reviewed my June calendar before heading to New York for Book Expo America.

On Wednesday, I saw Heart of Lies on the show floor, and was pleased to get a copy.  I was interested enough to keep it out of my box of books I was shipping home, so it would be available for reading in the hotel or on the plane home .  That evening, Harper Collins hosted a wonderful reception for Book Bloggers at the historic Algonquin Hotel.

I saw a woman in a gorgeous hat and dress, and was able to chat with her a bit– She was H.L. Malcolm!  We talked about twitter (she’s not on it yet!) and hats (she loves them, I should start wearing them again) for a few minutes before the demands of the event sent us circulating.  She gave me a tin of mints with the cover of her book printed on it, and left me smiling and thinking that authors are interesting people.

It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I already had a copy of the book (the cover was different) because I’d requested to be part of this tour!

At least I was consistent (if absent minded) about my interest in Heart of Lies.

I read Heart of Lies as part of a TLC Book Tour. Thank you to Trish for the book and the opportunity participate.

For more information on the book, go to the Heart of Lies website.

TLC Book ToursFor other perspectives on the book, check out the other tour stops:


Posted by on June 9, 2010 in books, reviews, tour


Tags: , , ,

11 responses to “Review: Heart of Lies by M.L. Malcolm

  1. Doreen R

    June 9, 2010 at 7:05 am

    Awesome review…thanks.

  2. Robin McCormack

    June 9, 2010 at 10:43 am

    I like your review and very cool story about meeting M.L. Malcolm.

  3. Colleen (Books in the City)

    June 10, 2010 at 6:05 am

    That’s who that was at the reception! The book sounds very interesting!

    Great review!

  4. diaryofaneccentric

    June 15, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    I agree about Martha’s character, but I still enjoyed the book. The time period really appealed to me.


  5. Heather J. @ TLC

    June 16, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Ms. Malcolm was a blast to chat with, wasn’t she?! I’m so looking forward to reading this book since I met her.

  6. booklogged

    June 17, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Very nice review. You are a thoughtful reader and write a good review. You’ll be happy to hear that the 2nd book follows Maddy’s life in America. I had the two books from a couple years ago when they were published another different titles. Both books were very compelling. You can read my review here.


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