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by John Hart
St Martin's Minotaur, May 2009
373 pages
ISBN: 0312359322

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So many lives are destroyed by the dark secrets, arrogance, and abuse that are exposed in this most intricately plotted story, rich in characterization, and set in the vividly described steamy countryside in rural North Carolina.

Once Johnny Merrimon's family was, as he remembers it, happy and whole. Then his twin sister Alyssa was abducted and never seen again. Unable to find his daughter Johnny's father leaves home and Johnny's mother, in order to block out the loss of both husband and child, has turned to drugs provided by Ken Holloway, one of the richest men in town and a former suitor.

The story unfolds as the main character, thirteen year old Johnny Merrimon, armed with a map of the county and a list of known pedophiles, searches for clues to the disappearance of his twin. His search takes him to the darkest and most remote corners of the county and among the most evil of its inhabitants.

Worried sick about what may be happening to his sister, and wishing his father would come back, Johnny now must look after and protect his mother from the abusive relationship that Ken Holloway has forced on her. Johnny is aided in his search by his trusted friend Jack, a boy who has one useless arm, an abusive father who is a zealous cop, and a "perfect" brother who is expecting a football scholarship from a prestigious university. While cutting school one day to continue his search, Johnny witnesses a horrible accident that will ultimately change his life and affect many of the families in town.

Levi Freemantle, a simple-minded, 6'5 black man, becomes an unlikely ally to Johnny when Levi hears God's voice tell him to pick Johnny up as he is running for his life. The tie that binds them goes back over a hundred years, though neither knows it until everything comes full circle.

The story is one of loss and redemption. It is also about Johnny Merrimon's premature growing up of and its effects on him and those he comes in contact with. Johnny's relationship with his friend Jack goes through a myriad of phases that show the true character of each boy.

Where does dedication end and obsession begin? This is the conundrum police detective Clyde Hunt grapples with as he heads the investigation into Alyssa's disappearance. Since the case began, Detective Hunt's wife has left him and his teenaged son has become distant and moody. Rumors are flying among his colleagues that he has more than an official interest in Alyssa's mother. A year into the investigation Hunt comes to admire Johnny's intellect, reasoning, and tenaciousness. If only Johnny would trust him before it is too late.

THE LAST CHILD is John Hart's third novel and one that will earn his place in the ranks of America's truly great authors along with Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and Tennessee Williams.

Reviewed by Ginger K.W. Stratton, April 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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