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.
Read my review of Down River by John Hart
Readers wishing to purchase this book from an Indie Bookstore may click on the link below to find Indie sellers. I am an Indie Associate and receive a small commission if readers purchase a book through this link on my blog.