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.
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My rating 3.5/5
Narrator Scott Sowers; Publisher Macmillan Audio ; ISBN N/A; Length 14hours 44 minutes
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The Last Child has been reviewed at Petrona