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370 of 380 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark and moody with a good dose of disturbing
I dare you to read the prologue of this book without getting totally pulled in to the story. My heart was pounding by page 2, and I think my boss might want to have a talk with Mr. Hart because I went in to work a couple of mornings on very little sleep because I couldn't put this book down until I got to the last word.

Johnny Merrimon was once a happy child...
Published on April 20, 2009 by mellion108

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154 of 186 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Let me start out by saying that I am surprised that my opinion about this book differs from most of the other reviewers. I was disappointed with it and I thought it had its problems.

First, brief summary with no spoilers:

This is the story of a 13 year old boy named Johnny, who is heartbroken because his twin sister Alyssa, has gone missing for one...
Published on April 20, 2009 by sb-lynn


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370 of 380 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark and moody with a good dose of disturbing, April 20, 2009
By 
This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
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I dare you to read the prologue of this book without getting totally pulled in to the story. My heart was pounding by page 2, and I think my boss might want to have a talk with Mr. Hart because I went in to work a couple of mornings on very little sleep because I couldn't put this book down until I got to the last word.

Johnny Merrimon was once a happy child. He and his twin sister, Alyssa, lived with their beautiful, vibrant mother and strong, caring father. Then Alyssa goes missing. She's seen being pulled into a mysterious van, and a year later, Johnny's life is completely different. His mother is bullied into passivity by a rich, abusive man who keeps her strung out on drugs and treats her like a possession. Johnny knows in his heart that he can find his sister, bring his father home, and save his mother, and for months he plays a dangerous game of spying on local child predators, convinced that at least one of them knows what happened to his sister. Detective Hunt is the haunted cop who cannot break out of his obsession with Alyssa's case - and the beautiful mother - to save his own family from falling apart. Jack is the wounded best friend who idolizes Johnny and tries to mask his own pain with the alcohol he steals from his cop father.

Hart could have taken the easy way out and turned this into a suspenseful but heartwarming story of mystery and redemption. Instead, he creates complex, rich characters and places them in terrifying, soul searching situations. Johnny is a child living with nightmares, and he reaches into ancient mysticism, searching for strength and clues to help him heal his family. He's seen too much of the harsh reality of life for someone his age, and this dark desperation colors all the events in this book.

I was, simply put, blown away by this book. It is well written, intelligent, and impossible to forget. A week after finishing it, I'm still thinking about it. Hart is now on my must-read list, and I look forward to reading his next novel.
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131 of 138 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thirteen-Year Old Towers Over Tragedy, April 29, 2009
By 
1075sticks (East Coast United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
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John Hart's "The Last Child" is a gripping story of Johnny Merrimon, a thirteen-year old who lost his twin sister to an abduction. The year before, his best friend, Jack Cross, saw Johnny's sister Alyssa taken into van. When the tragedy happened, what used to be the happy Merrimon family started to crumble. His mother Katherine blamed her husband for not picking their daughter up. The accusation drove Spencer Merrimon away. Katherine spirals into a world of drugs and dependency on an old manipulative boyfriend.

Johnny has lost everything he grew up with. But he wouldn't give up looking for his sister. Hoping against hope, Johnny relentlessly pores over the county's terrain, keeping tabs on sex offenders and acting on any lead he finds in order to solve the mystery of his sister's disappearance.

But he is not alone. The detective assigned to the case has spent the entire year trying to figure out what happened, too. Detective Clyde Hunt couldn't let this case go and when another abduction takes place, he is determined not to let it go unsolved. Tiffany Shore was another local girl and a classmate of Johnny.

Johnny and Detective Hunt run parallel tracks as they try to uncover who the town's possible serial kidnapper is. A strange series of events will keep the reader guessing on who the real perpetrator is and when the truth finally unfolds, the ugly side of Raven County surfaces.

I'm very impressed at the crisp writing and the constant movement. It's poignant, thoughtful, and Mr. Hart has a talent for getting into the mind of his characters and taking his readers with him. It is quite amazing how everything falls into place.

In the end, "The Last Child" is a story of how much a parent loves a child, of how much friendship means, and of how everything seems to happen for a reason.
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87 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a thriller, but a good story, April 6, 2009
This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
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I admit I was hesitant about this book, however the author's writing and story telling abilities grabbed me from the first page and kept me reading until the end.

A year ago, Johnny's sister was abducted changing his life completely. His mother has a total breakdown and her constant accusations drive Johnny's father away. He just left one day and didn't come back. His mother turns to drinking and drugs by way of her affluent boyfriend who 'lets' them stay in one of his run down rental houses, however he resents Johnny and is abusive, both mentally and physically to both of them.

Johnny tries to take care of him mother and somehow manages to attend school and get good grades despite staying up and out all night scouring neighborhoods for clues to where his sister may be.
He is sometimes joined by his best, and only friend Jack, son of a gruff policeman.

In the meantime, Detective Hunt has never given up on the case. He's become obsessive to the point of loosing his wife and alienating his son. Knowing Johnny's living situation, Detective Hunt tries to keep an eye out for Johnny. He knows what Johnny is up to and tries his best to keep him safe even though Johnny would prefer he stay out of it.

One day after ditching school, Johnny and Jack are hanging out at the river when they witness a murder. That's when things start to get interesting.

I have to admit I was clueless until the end of the book. I sort of figured it out toward the end, but still, it was a good ending.

I wouldn't recommend this book for a hard-core detective story, but for those just looking for a good story and a book that will keep you interested until the end, I would tell you to read this book.
Thank you.
MEF
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154 of 186 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, April 20, 2009
By 
sb-lynn (Santa Barbara, California United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
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Let me start out by saying that I am surprised that my opinion about this book differs from most of the other reviewers. I was disappointed with it and I thought it had its problems.

First, brief summary with no spoilers:

This is the story of a 13 year old boy named Johnny, who is heartbroken because his twin sister Alyssa, has gone missing for one year. His father has left the family, and his mother has turned into a shell of a woman - abusing drugs and alcohol and letting herself be further abused by a rich bully named Ken. Johnny is obsessed with finding his sister, and this book is about his search for her and the resolution to that mystery. We also become acquainted with a detective named Hunt, who is a good man, and is also obsessed with finding Alyssa. Hunt has problems of his own and his determination to find Alyssa often comes in conflict with his bosses at work and with his relationship with his own teenage son.

The good things about this book -

The mystery itself is quite good. We are given clues fair and square, and the denouement has a nice twist.

The not-so-good things about this book -

The characters are too stereotypical. We have the hard-working but noble detective, who not only has to battle the bad guys, but has to contend with his supervisors who foolishly and nonsensically try to stop him and foil his efforts.

We have the villain, child/woman abuser Ken, who always behaves badly even when it would serve him better to act differently. He's a one-dimensional character. And the same could be said for some of the other bad guys, who practically snarl at us.

Then there's the devastated mother, who of course is the most beautiful woman in town. Although I do understand her devastating loss, I thought that she seemed more of a plot devise than a real person.

Lastly, we have our young hero - 13 year old Johnny - which leads me to my biggest complaint, the dialogue. The dialogue in this novel often feels forced and when said aloud, sounds labored and contrived. Especially the dialogue between Johnny and best friend, 13 year old Jack. Here's just one short example, with Jack talking to Johnny about his own mother:

He barked a laugh. "My mom is one step away from foot washing and snake handling, Johnny man. You know that. She prays for my soul like I might burst into flames at any moment. She does it at home. She does it in public."

What 13 year old talks like this?

Although I had major quibbles with this book, I thought it had an interesting plot, and a nice twist at the end.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too many coincidences erode some of the novel's credibility, but it's well written and compelling enough to be worth reading, August 10, 2009
By 
J. Norburn (Quesnel, BC, Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
I'm a big fan of John Hart. His debut novel 'King of Lies' was excellent and his sophomore effort 'Down River' was even better. 'The Last Child' is very good but doesn't quite measure up to the other two (particularly 'Down River' which is one of the best novels I've read recently).

I have two complaints about this novel. The first is the stereotypical nature of many of the characters. Some of the characters are fleshed out well (which has been a real strength of Hart's writing in the past) but many characters in this novel are thin carbon-copies of characters we've all seen before. One example is the giant, kind-hearted, simple-minded black man who stumbles onto a murder scene and becomes the prime suspect in a crime he didn't commit (The Green Mile anyone?).

My second complaint is the extraordinary number of coincidences that occur in this novel(some might say 'ridiculous number'). As a reader of crime fiction I expect- and am willing to accept - some unlikely coincidences. After all, it comes with the genre and is usually part of the fun. But 'The Last Child' strains credibility a little too far in a number of instances. One example is when the man who finds a girl who has been missing for a year is driven off a bridge on his motor-bike and his body literally lands at the feet of missing girl's twin brother who ditched school that day and just happened to be hanging out by the river near the bridge. This is just one of a series of unlikely coincidences that build and build on one another to create an increasingly implausible plot.

Now, on to the positive: Hart is a very good writer. While many of the characters are stereotypical, he manages to breathe life into others. There is a scene near the end of the novel where one of the teenage characters has a heart-to-heart with his best friend that I found surprisingly moving. Hart bogs 'The Last Child' down with a few too many subplots (some of them add depth to the novel and make it more compelling, but others serve only to distract from the central story). For the most part though Hart is a very good story-teller who manages to deliver plot twists that are genuinely surprising and that (and this is pretty rare) are actually pretty satisfying.

This is a good novel and I recommend it, just not as highly as 'King of Lies' or 'Down River'. If you haven't read anything by Hart, I suggest starting with 'Down River'.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars (4.5) "He learned early that there was no safe place.", May 9, 2009
This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
At the heart of this provocative novel is a thirteen-year-old boy, Johnny Merrimon. Since his twin sister disappeared a year ago, Johnny's secure home life has literally been destroyed by the tragedy. His grief-stricken father has abandoned the family, his mother, Katherine, has fallen into an unhealthy relationship with a wealthy and powerful man who provides a bottomless supply of drugs and uses his fists against the boy. So Johnny has spent an agonizing year, armed with plat maps and Katherine's station wagon, conducting his own search of shady men and the places they inhabit. Observing Johnny from the sidelines, Detective Clyde Hunt tries to guide the boy away from the danger he courts, but Johnny will not be deterred. Hunt is riddled with guilt because he has failed to keep his promise to the family to return the girl safely home. This case is personal.

When random violence and another missing girl lead the detective to a potential suspect, the story is propelled into another dimension: "Darkness is a cancer of the human heart." A third character suddenly becomes critical to both Johnny's safety and the resolution of Alyssa's disappearance. A giant black man, Levi Freemantle, is somehow linked to Johnny through a recent incident, a man with the mental limitations of a child but a heart larger than the world will forgive. Responding only to directions from the voice of God, Levi stumbles through a wilderness of shattered dreams, a wounded man driven by a singular purpose. To his great credit, the author molds his dark tale into one of hope and promise, but not until the face of evil is exposed and Johnny is in peril. The reader becomes conversant with human nature at its most depraved, a complex layering of good intentions and fatal shortcomings.

While Johnny's character propels the story, the emotional anguish of Detective Hunt is equally as compelling, a man who believes in the rule of law yet daily faces the ugly truth of existence on the fringes of society, the underbelly of poverty and crime. The fragile Katherine is less attractive, all but crippled by her grief, seeing her lost daughter in Johnny's face while burying her pain in a drug-induced haze. The result is a child forced to become a man, a boy without a father who will not stop until he finds his sister. Rural North Carolina is the setting for this novel, a place rich with history and tradition, where bureaucracy constrains the well-intentioned Hunt and Social Services threatens to intervene on Johnny's behalf. Shirking no aspect of a difficult and painful landscape, Hart embraces the vagaries of the human condition and the seduction of violence, the loss of innocence and an unknown future. Herein lie the harsh lessons of forgiveness and redemption. Luan Gaines/2009.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Favorite book of the year, October 6, 2009
By 
Jessica Dennis (Seattle, Wa United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
By far, the best book I have read this year. Easily in my top 5 favorite books of all time. This book was amazing! I'm a pretty big John Hart fan- he has written 3 books, I really enjoyed his first- King of Lies. I enjoyed his second- Down River. And I LOVED his most recent - The Last Child.

The book revolves around the main character Johnny- a 12 year old boy determined to find his twin sister Alyssa, who has been missing for over a year. The kidnapping of his sister tore his family apart- his father left and his mother connected with an abusive yet powerful man who plies her with drugs and alcohol. Johnny and his sidekick Jack search the town for his twin sister- even visiting known sexual predators. The Detective originally assigned to the case hasn't given up either and tries to keep Johnny out of trouble and his mother away from her abusive new boyfriend.

And then it happens again- another young girl is missing and Johnny sets out to solve the mystery- hoping it leads him to his sister.

John Hart has an amazing knack for character portrayals- I actually cared about each character in the book and felt personally invested in the end. The book was full of meaning and actually had some Christian undertones that were interesting and well written.

This book deserves a 5 out of 5 rating- it's going to be hard to top this book, but I really hope John Hart does. Please get this book and share it with everyone who enjoys a thoughtful, well written mystery.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Zero to Sixty on First Page, April 16, 2009
By 
Stephanie De Pue (Wilmington, NC USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
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"The Last Child" is the latest mystery/thriller from North Carolinian John Hart, who has jumped to early New York Times Best-Sellerdom on the strength of his two earlier novels, The King of Lies (06) that was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel; and Down River(07) that won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. This young author, a practicing attorney in the west of the state, is obviously setting quite a sizzling pace with his output, and "Last Child" is not likely to slow him down.

The novel is set in the poor sand hill country of the state. It centers on 13-year old Johnny Merrimon, whose twin sister,Alyssa, disappeared a year ago. No trace of her has since been found, despite the best efforts of Detective Clive Hunt, who can be considered more-than-concerned, and half in love with Johnny's beautiful mom, who has been desolated by the loss of her daughter. And, in his inconsolable grief, Johnny's father has disappeared, also. So Johnny has taken to looking for his sister himself, with a bike and tax maps, on the dark side of town, where the pedophiles live. It is an extremely dangerous undertaking.

"Last Child" goes from zero to sixty on its first page, and never stops. Jumps out big and powerful, and continues in that way to the end. Boasts strong character development for a mystery, a tight, complex, riveting plot, a great eye for natural and human landscapes, beautiful, observant, and detailed nature writing. Let me just quote a paragraph, as Johnny is illegally driving his Mom's old car:

"The road bent away from the river, and swamp began to push in from both sides. The road rose a few feet, until it was a high strip above soft earth and dark water that flashed beyond gashes in the trees. Johnny rounded a bend and almost struck a snapping turtle that sunned in the middle of the road. Its shell was two feet across, black with dried algae. He steered around it and it opened its hooked mouth as they passed."

Hart recently spoke at a mystery book weekend tossed by the Wilmington (N.C.) public library: I wasn't able to catch him, as I had North Carolina Symphony tickets that night. But fellow members of the library mystery book club who did see him reported that he was personable, a fun speaker, and more than that, "nice." Now, I read and reviewed Hart's earlier "King of Lies," and wasn't that crazy about it, don't remember why not; but this book blows me away. And I ordinarily don't much care for young boy protagonists, on the theory, I guess, that I've never been, and never will be one; accordingly, I don't even read Stephen King. Still, I must say that this book deserves to be a best seller as big as its predecessors.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling page turner! I couldn't put it down., April 16, 2009
By 
witt25 (Sacramento, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
One year ago, Alyssa Merrimon went missing, and all presumed she was dead...everyone but her 13-year-old twin brother Johnny. After her disappearance, it became Johnny's mission to find her. With a worn map showing the local predators, Johnny searches his North Carolina hometown for any sign of his missing sister. Equally obsessed (but for different reasons) is detective Clyde Hunt, who has lost almost everything in his search for Alyssa, and will lose even more if he can't put the case behind him. Then, another girl goes missing just as a mysterious bear of a man shows up in town.

Full of intrigue, suspense, and richly developed characters, this is John Hart's best work to date. This book will keep you engrossed throughout, all the way up to the surprise finish that Hart has become known for. A MUST READ!!!!
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting...this one will stay with you, May 19, 2009
This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
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As often happens, I had a stack of 6 books I needed to read and review. With my last pile, for some reason, this one kept getting pushed down under and the other day I picked it up, finally, because it was the last one. And wow, it's a good one!

The story is about a 13-year-old boy who is searching for his twin sister -- she's believed to have been kidnapped. All leads have been exhausted, the father has left the family behind because of guilt, and the mother is a pill popping mess -- now tended by a cruel rich man in town who abuses her and her son, Johnny. The detective originally assigned to the case, Clyde Hunt, can't let it go, is infatuated with the beautiful grieving mother. Common enough plot.

Despite the usual conventions with a plot of this nature, this book works on many levels because there is so much more going on. We meet some very interesting characters and are taken on quite a wild ride. I cared deeply about Johnny, his friend Jack and about Levi. In some ways, this book is a study of the complexity of friendship and the nature of all kinds of love. Great writing!The climax is surprising because of the clever red herrings and the ending is touching, appropriate, and fulfilling.

I recommend this one, giving it 4 stars only because the one part that I can't get past is the detective and his obsession with the grieving mom. She seemed a cliche of "damsel in distress" and I can't even imagine how she could still be so "beautiful" with all the drugs she was doing and she sure wasn't an example of a character with any depth.
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The Last Child
The Last Child by John Hart (Paperback - March 9, 2010)
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