I have always been interested in history and the wars that have formed and torn apart the current world. The Heart of Hell is set in Croatia in 1991--right in the thick of the Yugoslavian civil war. To be completely honest, I know very little about said war. In fact, this book may be the most detailed chronicle I have ever read (I was born in 1983 and it was never a focus in school for me, though I am now quite captivated and would like to know more.)
So the setting of the book is great. The Balkan conflict is illustrated quite well for a lay person like myself. It was definitely my favourite part of the book.
Not that I didn't like the book. As I've stated in previous posts, the thriller genre (or more specifically in this case, political thriller) is not really something that I'm drawn to. But Mattich found a way to draw me in. The protagonist, Marko della Torre, is a former member of the Yugoslavian secret police. He is tasked by an American (presumably CIA) to find an old friend of his, Julius Strumbic, whom they believe has murdered another agent. Della Torre does not want to turn his friend in, but does want to find him and let him know. And so he dangerously embarks on a journey from Zagreb to Dubrovnik where he believes him to be.
The story itself is a good one. The major problem I had was following, though: this book is the third in a series. As a standalone, it sort of works--there are little fill-ins that help the reader, but I feel like they work better as reminders for those who had read the previous books. I'm eventually going to find the first two novels as I would definitely appreciate The Heart of Hell more after reading them.
As far as recommendations go, do yourselves a favour and read Zagreb Cowboy and Killing Pilgrim before reading The Heart of Hell. That way, you'll really enjoy an interesting, original series of political thrillers and you'll know more about The Montenegrin (a character that plays a crucial role in the series.)