Friday, January 22, 2010

The Last Child

The Edgar Award (awards for the best in crime literature) list of nominees is now out and I was thrilled to see that John Hart's The Last Child is on the list for best novel. I am not sure if it reduces his chances, but his last novel, Down River, won the 2008 Best Edgar. The Last Child is a better book than Down River and it should be recognized.

The story takes place over a few days as young Johnny Merrimon marks the anniversary of the disappearance of his twin sister. He is becoming obsessed with looking for her, and has little help. His father ran off shortly after his sister disappeared and his mother spends most of her days drunk or in the arms of an abusive boyfriend. The cops think he is crazy, except for one that he doesn't trust. Things heat up when another child vanishes.

The plot is great and all, but the characters are fabulous. Johnny is a great hero as an outsider who both longs for community and is also a individual. The cops are also quite good. There is a subplot involving a potential crooked cop that keeps the story moving. There is a cliche about these sorts of books that the author keeps you guessing until the end. This is true in this case, Hart does a great job inserting shady characters and plot twists.

If I had to pick an author of whom Hart reminds me, I would have to go with James Lee Burke. You get the solid characters, the mature sense of loss and tragedy, the believable characters loaded with human frailties and the great stories. You even kinda sort get the badass friend to get the main character out of scrapes.

The one thing that bothered me a little and may bother you quite a bit, is the element of magical realism that creeps in towards the end. If such things make you throw a book across the room, then you might want to look elsewhere. I would add though that you are missing a hell of a book.

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