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The Last Child – Book Review

But that’s the way it was. What had been concrete one day proved sand the next; strength was illusion; faith meant shit. So what? So his once-bright world had devolved to cold, wet fog. That was life, the new order. Johnny had nothing to trust but himself, so that’s the way he rolled – his path, his choices, and no looking back. – from The Last Child, page 23 –

Thirteen year old Johnny Merrimon is on a quest to find his missing twin sister Alyssa. A year before, he had been living a happy life…and then one day, Alyssa disappears along with Johnny’s idyllic existence.  His father is gone, his mother is in a drug and alcohol stupor, and an abusive man by the name of Ken Holloway has moved into the home Johnny shares with his mother. Disillusioned with his faith in God, Johnny turns to Indian lore and his past family history to empower himself to find Alyssa.

Detective Clyde Hunt is battling his own demons. He laments his failure to locate the missing girl, his wife has left him, and his teenage son Allen has become resentful, surly and troubled. Hunt is drawn to the independent Johnny – he admires the boy, but also wants to protect him. And then there is the unsettling feelings he has for Johnny’s mother, a fragile and beautiful woman who has worked her way into Hunt’s heart.

As Johnny comes closer to solving the mystery of Alyssa’s disappearance, another girl goes missing…and a huge, mentally ill man named Levi Freemantle is on the loose having escaped from a work release program. As the bodies begin to pile up, the mystery deepens and the novel takes a surprising turn towards its conclusion.

John Hart’s latest novel is set in North Carolina and once again, he brings to life small town America in a suspense-thriller that has plenty of twists and turns. Hart interweaves multiple plot lines and introduces a few surprises in a book which won him the 2010 Edgar Award for Best Novel. Johnny is a damaged kid whose street-wise nature makes him appear much older than thirteen. Detective Hunt is the cop who is willing to do what it takes to solve a case, even if it puts his career on the line.

Thematically the novel takes a hard look at good vs. evil and supernatural power. Hart uses symbolism liberally – the “murder of crows” who line a barn roof for example. Perhaps the heaviest part of the book is Johnny’s struggle with his faith – a faith which has been shattered by unfulfilled promises and the loss of Alyssa. As Johnny turns away from God and looks toward ancient lore, the book takes on a dark tone.

In the end, Hart redeems his characters and takes the reader down the twisty road to conflict resolution.

This is a very good suspense-thriller which engaged me from the beginning – although I would say the last third of the book is really where its strength lies. By the time I reached the last 150 pages, I could not set the novel aside. I wanted to know how the mystery ended and I was cheering for the characters.

Readers who enjoy strong suspense-thriller writing, will want to add this book to their wish list.

Highly recommended.

Read my review of Down River by John Hart

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11 Comments

  1. January 8, 2011    

    That sounds amazing in spite of its darkness.

  2. January 8, 2011    

    I don’t read many thrillers, but the edge-of-your-seat suspense you describe has me intrigued. Thanks for the review, Wendy.

  3. January 8, 2011    

    I read this book some time ago, and totally loved it. But I realize, reading your review, that I hardly remember a thing. I guess both the good news and the bad news is that I need to read it again!

  4. January 9, 2011    

    Kathy: Hart is a really good suspense writer.

    Dawn: I really love a good thriller – and Hart is a little “literary” in style too…hope you’ll try this one!

    Jill: Uh oh, not good if you forget it!! LOL! Glad to hear you loved it!

  5. January 9, 2011    

    This one is definitely on my list (I’m slowly working through last year’s Edgar books). Thanks for the reminder to make time for it!

  6. January 9, 2011    

    Carrie: I just posted the Edgar winners and nominees to my blog…so many look great! Hope you’ll like this one!

  7. January 9, 2011    

    I love a good suspense novel that is filled with a lot of unexpected twists and turns, so I would probably really like this one. Great review! I am glad to hear that this one was such a hit with you!

  8. Arial Arial
    January 11, 2011    

    You inspired me to download this as my first Nook book. I got a color nook for Christmas and wanted my first experience to be a can’t-put-down work of fiction. Plus the author lives in the same state I do. Can’t wait to begin reading it!

  9. January 11, 2011    

    Heather: I can also recommend his other Edgar winner: Down River. I am looking forward to his next novel! Hope you’ll get a chance to read one of his books.

    Arial: Oh yay! I love inspiring people to pick up a book that I enjoyed 🙂 Happy reading!

  10. January 11, 2011    

    I’ve been meaning to read both of his Edgar winning books for forever. I’m glad you liked both of them. That means I know I’ll read them eventually!

  11. January 16, 2011    

    Michelle: LOL – I think these would be books you’d enjoy.

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