Review: The Last Child by John Hart

Johnny Merrimon’s twin sister Alyssa disappeared a year ago. Since then Johnny’s father has abandoned the family and his mother has slid into depression, drug use and an abusive relationship with a man who Johnny despises. The case of his sister’s disappearance is the responsibility of the small town’s lead detective, Clyde Hunt, whose own life has soured as his obsession with finding Alyssa and patching up the Merrimon family has grown. As the book opens Johnny learns something new about the case which sets of a series of explosive events.

Johnny’s story is beautifully depicted. The way he copes with his situation is to delve into the history and folklore of the town and his own ancestors and create a set of somewhat mystical beliefs and tasks that will, if followed properly, rescue him from the hell his world has become. This desire to actively exert some control over a life spiralling into chaos was perfectly credible in the way it combined the folly and impetuousness of his youth with a more adult maturity that would surely come to a boy who had endured all of Johnny’s horrors. His role in the book was fleshed out by his relationships with others, in particular his friendship with Jack Cross, whose physical deformity marks him as another of the town’s outcasts, and also to Levi Freemantle, an escaped prisoner who Johnny encounters at several key points in the story.

The other heavily featured character is Clyde Hunt who I found vaguely objectionable. The obsessive cop is a staple figure of crime fiction and I am not normally put off by them but something in Hunt’s obsession didn’t ring true for me. Perhaps it is just that I have grown weary of men who view women as fragile objects to be worshiped but never really taken seriously which is essentially how Hunt behaves towards Johnny’s beautiful mother Katherine. “So you wouldn’t give a damn about this missing kid if her mother wasn’t gorgeous?” is what I’d like to have asked Hunt (if it were possible for me to converse with fictional beings).

The beginning and the end of this book were very solid from a storytelling perspective but I got a bit bored in the middle. It’s hard to talk about why without giving away spoilers so all I will say is that I was just not engaged by the rather large (and I thought quite obvious) red herring that occupied the Police for a good chunk of time. I couldn’t help wondering what this book would have looked like 15 years ago when 200-300 pages was a perfectly acceptable length for a novel.

Now I must admit that I found the audio book hard going due to the narration. Reading other reviews of this recording by people far more knowledgeable about regional American accents than I am it seems that Scott Sowers has mastered the Southern US accent very well (to suit the book’s small town in North Carolina setting). What is less clear is whether or not the long ‘a’ and ‘the’ that Sowers uses every single time he utters the prepositions is representative of the accent. Frankly even if making those words have syllables is reflection of the local accent I found it extremely annoying and I swear the practice lengthened the book by an unnecessary hour. However I think I can separate my enjoyment of the story from my annoyance at the narration.

Overall I would recommend you read the book for one of the most believable and sensitive depictions of a teenage boy I’ve read in a very long time. I could not however recommend this particular recording and would suggest you opt for the print version of The Last Child.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 3.5/5

Narrator Scott Sowers; Publisher Macmillan Audio [2009]; ISBN N/A; Length 14hours 44 minutes

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The Last Child has been reviewed at Petrona

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6 Responses to Review: The Last Child by John Hart

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for this review. It goes without saying that I always learn from your reviews. I’m especially interested by your points about the narration. The linguist in me is perpetually fascinated by use of language, people’s reaction to it and so on. I wonder how often people like or dislike an audio book based primarily on the narrator’s choice of style, dialect and so on, rather than what they are actually hearing….

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  2. Deb says:

    Although I’m not originally from the south, I currently live in Louisiana (and have previously lived in Georgia) and accents below the Mason-Dixon line vary in the intensity of the stereotypical “southernness.” Native North Carolinians have (to my ear) a much flatter, more nasal sound to their accent than people who come from further south. I find when I’m listening to an audiobook, I prefer the reader to go very lightly on any accent–a little of those verbal tricks goes a long way.

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  3. Norman says:

    From my experience of several long holidays driving across the Border South television executives also find the long drawn out Southern accent incompatible with reading the news. It would take far too long, and as in the UK regional accents are replaced by a bland classless mid Atlantic version of English. Compare the way our present Prime Minister’s upper class wife Samantha Cameron speaks with the accent used by the actress Honeysuckle Weeks in Foyle’s War and the difference is amazing.

    I remember my son’s exchange teacher from Texas at his special school whose charming drawl we at first thought was extra slow for the children with learning difficulties, but discovered this was her normal speaking voice.

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  4. Yes Deb I too prefer the ‘less is more’ approach when it comes to accents – a mild hint or nothing at all I think is preferred.

    LOL @ Norman – I do think those Southerners must have a lot of time on their hands.

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  6. amy says:

    I thought this book was very well written. It kept you guessing and wanting to read more. I really enjoyed this book!!!! Great job John Hart

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