The Last Child
John Hart
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Buy *The Last Child* by John Hart online

The Last Child
John Hart
Minotaur Books
432 pages
March 2010
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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“Darkness is a cancer of the human heart.” A cynical statement, but an appropriate one when considering this taut novel of innocence lost and the long road to redemption. With three main characters - Johnny Merrimon, thirteen; Detective Clyde Hunt; and Levi Freemantle, a giant of a man with a great heart - the author covers the gamut of emotions, from hope to despair, grief, loss and forgiveness.

The quality of this writing is extraordinary and consistent, a tale that captures the unpredictability of fate and the consequences of violence. To read this novel is to recognize certain truths about human nature and the world we inhabit, none of which is sugar-coated. The final page is met with a sigh of relief and a fragment of hope.

Johnny is a tragic young figure, a boy obsessed with finding his twin sister, who disappeared a year ago. In his careful search, Johnny marks his plot maps, trying to ignore the heartbreak of his father’s abandonment and his mother’s slow fall into the arms of a brutal man and the oblivion of drugs the man provides.

His home is unbearable, a filthy rental where his mother languishes. If only Johnny can find Alyssa - whom he believes is still alive - there is a chance to reclaim the happiness of former days. Since Alyssa’s disappearance and his mother’s dependency on her new boyfriend, Johnny sleeps with a steel pipe beside his bed, never knowing when the brutal intruder will strike him.

Monitoring the boy from the sidelines, Detective Clyde Hunt is haunted by his inability to keep his promise to the family in failing to find Johnny’s sister. Now the case is personal, his commitment irrevocable, even with the loss of his wife and increasing anger of his teenaged son. A third character adds to this complex and provocative tale: Levi Freemantle, a huge black man driven by the voice of God to protect the innocent.

This is a painful moral landscape where monsters tread, where children cower before unpredictable and violent men, a North Carolina town where everyone suffers the vagaries of human nature and the inequities of existence. Good coexists with evil, a young boy driven to reunite his family, a detective stumbling through the dark chaos of murder and the giant man with the heart of a child. The result is breathtaking.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2009

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