Reviewers have never been quiet when it comes to a new John Hart novel, and from starred critiques to caveats of uneven characterization — often in the same review — “The Hush” (St. Martin’s Press) is making well-deserved noise among literary circles.
It doesn’t hurt that Hart, the only author to win the best novel Edgar Award for consecutive books, returns to the scene of his most-read, most-awarded work, “The Last Child.” That 2009 Edgar Award-winning mystery details Johnny Merrimon’s search for his twin sister, a desperate escapade into a forgotten land with a century-old history of violence.
Because it would be easy to spoil that story for the uninitiated, suffice it to say that “The Hush” comes full circle. It’s been 10 years since the close of “The Last Child,” and now we find Johnny living in, and about to lose, the Hush, 6,000 acres of half-swamp, half dry land in Raven County, N.C.
Challenging Johnny for ownership of the land is Cree Freemantle, whose slave ancestors may have had a claim to the property. Needing legal help he can’t afford, Johnny turns to his boyhood friend and newish attorney Jack Cross (also returning from “The Last Child”) for help.
Mix in the wealthy William Boyd, who offers Johnny $30 million for the land but soon falls prey to a horrific death in the Hush for which Johnny becomes the primary suspect, and “The Hush” has all the ingredients of a Grisham legal thriller.
It is in the second, and stronger half of the novel, that Hart turns from this tack to unleash the nightmares of violent and supernatural forces that prey on all who enter the Hush, and especially on those with a direct-descendent connection to the land.
Weaving those forces into a credible story is part of Hart’s particular brand of story-telling magic. Once he moves past the slightly scattered opening, the author finds this footing and delivers a story that will satisfy a reader into the late hours of the night.
That satisfaction is something for which St. Martin’s obviously has high hopes. Amid an aggressive marketing campaign, Hart is on the type of book tour — 32 stops from Raleigh to Denver — once common but now reserved for all but the most ambitious and promising of projects. With “The Hush,” it’s a good bet. Building on the strength of this well-crafted story, it’s a campaign that will be well-received.