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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Last Child

Two pieces of good news for fans of detective/thriller fiction: John Hart tells one hell of a good story and he is getting better and better each time out. Set in rural North Carolina, The Last Child tells the story of 13-year-old Johnny Merriman who is still searching for his twin sister who disappeared a year earlier. Johnny refuses to believe that she might be long dead. Instead, convinced that Alyssa is still alive and being held captive nearby, he is consumed with the idea of finding her before it is too late.

Johnny Merriman’s world was shattered by his sister’s disappearance. Unable to deal with his own grief, Johnny’s father has also disappeared, leaving Johnny’s mother at the mercy of a wealthy real estate developer who keeps her so strung out on booze and drugs that she spends most of her time in bed – right where he wants her. As Johnny sees it, he is the only one who can make things right again.

Johnny, though, has an ally in Detective Clyde Hunt, a man who is so haunted by his own failure to find Alyssa that one year later he still cannot get a good night’s sleep. Hunt is, in fact, so obsessed with the case that he has let his obsession destroy his marriage and ruin his relationship with his only son. Because Johnny distrusts all police officers, he searches for his sister on his own, beginning with his attempt at a house-by-house questioning of his entire community. As Johnny digs deeper and deeper into the town’s secrets, the wrong people begin to get nervous and Hunt finds it impossible to protect the boy from himself.

John Hart is a masterful storyteller but, just as importantly, his characters are real people motivated by the same emotions, desires and weaknesses that plague us all. As the plot of The Last Child takes its many twists and turns, the reader knows the characters well enough to predict how each of them will react to events and to each other – or does he just think that he does?

Be forewarned that surprising twists come so fast in the book’s last eighty or ninety pages that it is best to be prepared to read all those pages in one sitting. Once you start reading that last leg, there will be no stopping until you finish the final page.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Rated at: 5.0

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