John Hart

John Murray pbk £6.99

Published: March 4th 2010

Reviewer: Gwen Moffat


Gwen Moffatís day job was rock climbing and she broke moulds. As the first woman guide she carved a niche in the macho world of professional mountaineering; as a crime writer she specialises in wild country. Her main protagonist, Melinda Pink, follows her creatorís interests: surpassing her in some, falling short in others. Miss Pink is an intrepid rider but not much of a climber, she is a perceptive investigator and a large woman of imposing presence


Ignore the quotes from reviews of the authorís first two books which are designed to sell this, the third;The Last Child speaks for itself. There can be few crime novels incorporating so many violent deaths (thirteen? fourteen?) that remain rational and socially responsible. The focus is paedophilia, the ambiance deepest noir, but there is not depiction of depravity, rather the reactions of the hunted and the hunters and, crucially, of prey turning on predator. This is a book that canít be put down; first class of its kind but entertainment it is not.

The story is told from the points of view of three characters: a boy of thirteen devastated by the disappearance of his twin sister a year ago, the investigator in love with the stricken mother and committed to finding her child, and Levi; a simple black giant who could be monster, avenger or saint.

A biker is hurled from a bridge, a second girl vanishes, suddenly a small town in North Carolina is caught up in a maelstrom of domestic violence and child abuse, of political in-fighting and corrupt policing, of drugs and drink on both sides of the tracks. And all this against a background of steaming swamp and rioting green jungle. The haunt of venomous snakes and perverts repeating the same kind of obscenities they practiced in Vietnam.

The genius of John Hart is demonstrated by his ability to create a boy who, despite being damaged by horror and inspired by murderous hatred, engages all our sympathy. And to counter infamy there is loyalty and love and compassion Ė and an unexpected twist. The Last Child leaves the reader awed and troubled, and wondering how on earth the author is going to follow such a tour de force.





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