YA author Tess Sharpe explodes on the thriller scene with Barbed Wire Heart, a hard-boiled, gritty crime novel set in California.
Duke McKenna is the drug king of northern Cali, ruling a vast empire that he’s built from the ground up — cheating, stealing, and killing his way to the top. Meth has made him big money and given him lots of power, but it’s come at a cost. Years back, the Springfields, the McKennas’ rivals, took out the first lady of the McKenna empire in a meth lab explosion, leaving Duke alone to raise Harley, their only child.
Now Harley is twenty-two and the heir to her father’s throne. She is, after all, what he made her — which is a hardened criminal. Whereas other kids grow up doing normal things and activities with their parents, Harley grew up learning the best ways to torture people who threaten their family and business and how to handle herself. She’s shot people before and seen her father kill men. She lost her innocence at a young age, but managed to hide just enough of it away that she’s not completely sold on taking over for her father when his time as kingpin is done.
When the Springfields roll back into town, a turf war quickly breaks out, and Duke’s enemies know that his one weakness is Harley, which puts a big target on her back.
Forced to confront her past actions and her future, Harley decides to stop blaming her father for who and what she is for the first time. Realizing that she has a choice is only half the battle, though. Having the courage to make the right choice is the really hard part. But when Harley does make that decision, there’s no going back, and she launches a secret plan to bring down the Springfields. . . and her father’s empire, once and for all.
Right out of the gate, Tess Sharpe proves that she can punch with the best of them. After some early head-hopping (multiple POV shifts that get a tad confusing), Sharpe settles in and delivers a powerful story about a young woman who has every reason to do wrong but makes the more difficult choice to ultimately try and do what’s right.
The subject matter and world the characters live in are very dark, and it’s Sharpe’s ability to bring raw emotions to life that makes this story work. Harley isn’t an antihero, but she’s not exactly likable in the beginning, either. Essentially, Sharpe’s setup is predicated on her finding ways to endear Harley to readers, which she pulls off as the story unfolds, developing her strong protagonist through a series of childhood flashbacks that paints a striking and vivid picture of Harley’s violent childhood.
Fast-paced and well-written, Barbed Wire Heart packs a surprise message wrapped in a gritty, violent plot that fans of Don Winslow and Meg Gardiner will enjoy. Tess Sharpe is the real deal, and her first adult thriller is an absolute knockout.
Author: Tess Sharpe
Pages: 416 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 7.5/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in southwest Michigan with his wife and their five children. For more information, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook!