four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
By: 
John Hart
user_rating: 
0

A-TheLastChildA former criminal defense attorney, John Hart is the Edgar Award-winning author of two New York Times bestsellers-The King of Lies ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection Sept/Oct 2006) and Down River ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2008). Steeped in the history and culture of his home state, North Carolina, Hart's highly acclaimed page-turners pay tribute to the Southern novel.

The Story: Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon's idyllic, small-town life shattered the day his twin sister, Alyssa, was abducted on her way home from the library. Just weeks after her disappearance, Johnny's guilt-ridden father, who had forgotten to pick her up, abandons the family, while his grief-stricken mother descends into an alcohol- and drug-fueled haze. Convinced that she is still alive, Johnny scours the county on his bicycle, spying on registered sex offenders and witnessing "things no boy was supposed to see." Detective Clyde Hunt, whose obsession with the unsolved case destroyed his marriage, tries to protect the troubled boy, but Johnny's dogged determination leads him to centuries-old secrets that someone will stop at nothing to protect.
Minotaur Books. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780312359324

Providence Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Last Child is ... a terrific mystery chock full of twists, turns and red herrings as the truth behind Alyssa's disappearance becomes clear in a denouement that offers some degree of hope, however jaded. ... [Hart] ambitiously sets out to debunk the greatest mythology of all: childhood itself." Jon Land

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Each character emerges as a flesh-and-blood person, especially 'the last child,' Johnny Merrimon, who is as fully realized and memorable as Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. ... Hart succinctly pulls together a terrifying, heartbreaking story that lays bare the extent of human emotions." Oline H. Cogdill

Winston-Salem Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Last Child is a beautifully written, gripping story that will have you staying up late, torn between a desire to know what happens and a reluctance to get to the book's end and break the spell. But don't worry: The characters will stay vividly alive in your imagination long after you've raced through the pages." Linda Brinson

Atlanta Jrnl Constitution 4 of 5 Stars
"Hart artfully employs the pattern of a whodunit to lead the reader down a twisted, thrilling path. ... With the deft characterization of any good work of literary fiction and the subtle, satisfying plotting of a favorite mystery, The Last Child brings readers deep into the pathos of a small North Carolina community." Sarah Dollacker

Madison County Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"When I read the first sentence of John Hart's The Last Child ... I knew it was above and beyond the norm in typical thrillers. ... The harsh truth in the final few pages will leave the reader breathless (it brought unexpected tears to my eyes)." JC Patterson

Raleigh News & Observer 4 of 5 Stars
"The Last Child marks a solid new milestone in Hart's progression as a serious writer of mystery fiction. His story is poignant, painstakingly plotted and endlessly suspenseful." Rod Cockshutt

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The story is a good one, and Johnny stands out from the clich├ęd characters around him. But borrowing from Huck Finn doesn't turn Hart into Mark Twain, and his methodical writing style plods along these Southern roads without kicking up anything but dust." Marilyn Stasio

Critical Summary

Most critics sang the praises of Hart's third novel, a dark and violent edge-of-your-seat mystery that still manages to poignantly examine the ties between family and friends. Hart's ability to portray his characters as living, breathing individuals-particularly Johnny, "an amalgam of Opie Taylor and Scout Finch with a hint of Huck Finn" (Raleigh News & Observer)-and his acute assessment of human nature result in a horrifying, heartbreaking tale that steps up the suspense to agonizing levels. The sole voice of dissent, stalwart crime-reviewer Marilyn Stasio from the New York Times Book Review, faulted the writer's unoriginal characters and lackluster prose. But majority rules. Most readers will agree that The Last Child is "one of the best thrillers of the year" (Providence Journal).

Also by the Author

The King of Lies (2006): In Hart's stunning debut novel, Jackson Workman "Work" Pickens, a North Carolina criminal defense attorney, becomes the prime suspect when his father is murdered. He must confront the demons of his past to save himself.