Title: The Last Child
Author: John Hart
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Scott Sowers
First line: Johnny learned early.
It has been a year since Alyssa, 13-year-old Johnny Merrimon’s twin sister, disappeared. In that time, his life has fallen apart. His father has walked out on them, his mother has sunk into a pit of depression fueled by drugs and alcohol, and they’ve lost their home. Unfortunately, there are always predatory men waiting for beautiful women like Katherine, Johnny’s mother, to be vulnerable and desperate – and Ken Holloway is all too willing to provide Katherine and Johnny with a home. Katherine and Johnny take the brunt of Holloway’s alcohol-induced violence, but Holloway’s status in the community keeps him protected.
The only person still watching out for the Merrimons is Detective Clyde Hunt. He’s dealing with his own demons – his guilt over failing to bring Alyssa home has cost him his marriage and his relationship with his son. He tries to help Johnny and Katherine, without stepping into that place his partner calls “the personal.” But when another young girl disappears, everything becomes personal – and Hunt is determined that this time, he’ll bring her home. Johnny is convinced that the two disappearances are connected, and sets out to do some investigating of his own – with dire consequences.
John Hart has crafted the perfect thriller. It has characters that will break your heart, a page-turning plot, a twist ending, and an atmospheric setting, along with brilliant writing. It brought to mind the work of Tana French and Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter – and I hope his other work is as good.
Johnny Merrimon broke my heart. While all of the characters are wonderfully written, this is Johnny’s story. His love for his sister and his refusal to believe that she’s dead are what drive his every action. He is fierce and intelligent and strong in spite of everything the world has done to destroy him.
Clyde Hunt is a detective who attempts to walk the line between “just doing the job” and “making it personal.” His struggles – with himself, and with the politically-minded police chief who seems determined to block him at every move – make for compelling reading. I liked his character so much that I would love to see another book with him as the investigator.
Once in a while, I find myself so lost in an audiobook that I don’t want to read print books, and this was one of those times. When I got to the last two discs, I did nothing but listen until I finished and found out how it ended. I can definitely see this title appearing on my “favorite audiobooks of 2012” list.
Audio notes: Scott Sowers was perfect. Absolutely perfect. He gave a nuanced performance, finding the emotion in every line and inhabiting each character.