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Heart of Lies by M.L. Malcolm

Heart of Lies (2005)

by M.L. Malcolm

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8623214,439 (3.33)9
After his dreams for the future are destroyed by World War I, young Hungarian Leo Hoffman attempts to rebuild his life, but finds himself inadvertently caught up in an international counterfeiting scheme. He is forced to flee to Shanghai with his lover, carrying with him a stolen treasure that will be either his salvation or his downfall.… (more)



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(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 change 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 a warning.)The book probably deserves higher than the 4 star rating I gave it. I read it in two sittings, and really enjoyed it, but I think I didn't fully give it the credit it deserves.This is a beautifully written book. This is one of the aspects that I didn't fully appreciate. I think that was a focus of this book, and I simply don't read books for the words, I use the words to deliver characters and a plot.It seemed to me that the book was two different stories. The first 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) belong 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 as it did through the story. Overall, I think I should have found Leo more interesting than I did at that time.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 was and politics of the era, and it certainly has an effect on the events of the novel, but it isn't the focus anymore.I liked Heart of Lies best when it focused on Leo's daughter Maddy. Here, the characters take precedence over the plot.Overall, I found this an interesting, intricate, well written book.Heart of Lies has quite a bit in common with [b:The Distant Land of My Father|144538|The Distant Land of My Father|Bo Caldwell|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1172164147s/144538.jpg|1296056] by [a:Bo Caldwell|83562|Bo Caldwell|http://www.goodreads.com/images/nophoto/nophoto-U-50x66.jpg]. 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. ( )
  ImBookingIt | Jun 6, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
After receiving this book as an early reviewer, it took me a long time to get around to reading and reviewing it, but I'm glad I did. The fact is, I have so many books double-stacked on my shelves, that I just lost it for a while!

This is a fascinating story of an enigmatic Hungarian, Leo Hoffman, a wizard at learning languages, who becomes naively involved with revolutionaries in Hungary and ends up fleeing to Shanghai in the 1920s--the only place in the world someone like him could go without a Visa.

I will avoid plot spoilers, but before fleeing from Paris, where the revolutionaries had taken him to act as a translator, he falls madly in love with a German girl. Communication is no problem, since Leo speaks German and French, which she also speaks, as well as Russian, English, and Hungarian. In any case, the rest of the book concerns the trials and tribulations of Leo, the girl, and their daughter in Shanghai and beyond up until the eve of America's entry into World War II. Of course, the war had affected Shanghai long before that, turning it from the paradise of adventurers into a dangerous place where the large international community found itself caught in the growing war between China and Japan, not to mention the conflict between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists. Those who could get out did, but others, like Leo and Shanghai's growing Jewish community, were stuck.

Ms. Malcolm has thoroughly researched her history, and the story is woven around a series of true events starting in Hungary and extending into China. Having been privileged to live in Shanghai for a couple of years and having studied its history, this was a big attraction of the book. However, it was also an annoyance, since my foreknowledge left me waiting (literally) for the next bomb to drop. However, for someone not so familiar with the history of Shanghai, that shouldn't be a problem and the book will even be educational.

The other main problem I had with the book was that its last third was greatly accelerated as if the author had a limited number of pages allotted or was in a hurry to get finished. As the focus of the book shifts from Leo to his wife to his daughter, some of the strength of the story is lost, although the power of the events depicted is still captivating. I will also admit to falling spell to the books more sentimental aspects and being moved (though not quite to tears) on a couple of occasions. There is a lot of great stuff here and Ms. Malcolm is an excellent storyteller.

As the book speeds to its conclusion, it becomes evident that a sequel is needed, and the author confirms this in the interesting interview at the end of the volume. ( )
  datrappert | Apr 28, 2011 |
From the other reviews I've seen I know I'm in the minority here, but I disliked this book.  And I tried really hard to like it because it is so up my alley (and I'm reviewing the sequel!). 

I found myself describing this book to friends as watching a movie with gorgeous scenery and a very exciting plot and two super pretty and super wooden actors in the lead.  I found Malcolm's writing to be very telling (rather than showing): I was told the heroine was a 'firebird' but she didn't do anything to warrant such an interesting description; I was told the hero was charming but what he did seemed creepy at best and sociopathic at worst.

History provided all the plot and Shanghai in the '20s and '30s was a tumultuous place, but the story just felt boring and busy all at once.  Despite the promise of two interesting characters, only Leo got any real face time, which further enhanced my inability to connect with or care about the other characters and his behavior was so repugnant I wasn't that interested in connecting with him.

My next comment might be a spoiler, so skip to the next paragraph if you care.  From the moment she walked onto the page, heroine Martha was clearly expendable.  She could have been so interesting, but instead, remained flat, merely a foil for Leo, a very pretty bauble to dance out when we needed to be reminded of all that Leo had to lose.  Continuing the telling-not-showing vein, we're subjected to lots of scenes of men lusting after her because she's so interesting and vibrant, but in the text, all she actually did was smile prettily and blink back tears most of the time.  Her death was clear from the middle of the book and it was just a matter of getting to the page where it happened.

I suppose I should say that another book everyone loves and find so romantic, The Time Traveler's Wife, I found to be creepy and wholly unromantic.  Many bloggers who have great tastes love this book, so it may just be that Malcolm's writing and I don't gel ( )
2 vote unabridgedchick | Mar 30, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I'm not the right audience for this book. Too much romance, too little mystery, predictable, etc. I'm sure there are any number of others who will appreciate it.
  whymaggiemay | Jan 26, 2011 |
Though the decisions made in Heart of Lies have far greater consequences, I found some similarity between it and the last book I reviewed, The Privileges. Both are the story of a man doing what he thinks he must in order to protect the people he loves. In Heart of Lies, we follow Leo Hoffman from 1919 shortly after the close of World War I to 1939 and the dawn of World War II. The future Leo expected for himself vanishes following World War I. When an opportunity for advancement comes his way, he takes the chance. Unfortunately for Leo, things do not work out the way he planned. Instead, he must flee to Shanghai and find a way to rebuild his life with the woman he loves.

Malcolm did a great deal of research to ensure the historical accuracy of the novel and it shows. The horrible events of the era are faithfully depicted and make the extremely difficult decisions Leo must make easier to accept. There were moments when I was on edge waiting to see if Leo could survive the setback currently facing him. The final pages had me sobbing. Despite Leo's flawed character, I found myself rooting for him every step of the way.

I didn't realize until the end that Malcolm was setting up a series of books. The next is called Heart of Deception and comes out in April 2011. I look forward to following the saga of Leo's life and hope you will join me on his journey. ( )
  iubookgirl | Nov 24, 2010 |
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He had not spoken to Julia since the day he ended their affair.
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Previously published with the title "Silent Lies" by Longstreet Press in 2005 and A Good Read Publishing in 2008. Published by HarperCollins as "Heart of Lies" in 2010.
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