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Skating Over the Line: A Mystery

Skating Over the Line: A Mystery

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Skating Over the Line: A Mystery

4.5/5 (149 оценки)
291 страница
4 часа
27 сент. 2011 г.


Rebecca Robbins is desperate to sell her inherited roller-skating rink in small-town Indian Falls, and---finally---she has a buyer. She can't wait to head back to Chicago, especially now that her long delinquent father has blown back into town, but Lionel, her veterinarian boyfriend, thinks she should stay put. Also, the gang at the Senior Center wants her to track down the thief who's been hot-wiring rusted-out classic cars.

Unable to resist, Rebecca soon has the Sheriff's Deputy threatening to arrest her for obstruction, and strange but scary men threatening her life. Then cars start exploding, with people in them, and Rebecca's father goes missing. With the help of Pop, her Elvis-impersonating grandfather, Rebecca must find the pyromaniac car thief and put a stop to him---before he stops her first.

Skating Over the Line is the second novel in a delightful cozy series filled with small town charm and delicious laughs.

27 сент. 2011 г.

Об авторе

Joelle Charbonneau has performed in opera and musical-theater productions across Chicagoland. She is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Testing trilogy and the bestselling Dividing Eden series, as well as two adult mystery series and several other books for young adult readers. Her YA books have appeared on the Indie Next List, YALSA’s Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and state reading lists across the country. Joelle lives in the Chicago area with her husband and son. www.joellecharbonneau.com

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Skating Over the Line - Joelle Charbonneau


I hate men. Okay, maybe hate is an overstatement. There are perfectly nice men in the world who brake for squirrels, are loyal like Lassie, and didn’t drop unwanted surprises in a girl’s lap. Too bad I didn’t know many of them.

Brushing a wayward red curl out of my face, I stared down at the letter in my hands. A combination of terror, outrage, and a weird kind of hope coursed through my body.

Hey, Rebecca?

I jumped at the sound of my name. Tearing my eyes away from the paper, I gave what I hoped was a welcoming smile to the teenage girl peering through my office doorway. Do you need something, Brittany?

If my voice sounded a bit breathy and strained, Brittany didn’t seem to notice. She just shook her Goth black mane and said, Nope, but Deputy Sean is looking for you. Her accompanying eye roll spoke volumes on her opinions of the local law department. He’s in the parking lot.

Great. A normal visit from Deputy Sean involved being chastised once again for the time I’d poked my overcurious nose into police business. On a typical day, I went to great lengths to avoid Sean Holmes. However, today was anything but typical.

I let the letter fall from my fingers onto the desk, ignoring the temptation to read the message one more time. Great, I said, giving a hundred-watt smile. Let’s go see what he wants.

I headed out of the office, away from the unwanted letter, and into the roller rink my mother had adored.

Lights flashed. The Village People blared over the loudspeaker as people young and old skated in a counterclockwise circle. The smell of popcorn mixed with wood polish and sweat created an aroma that was distinctly the Toe Stop Roller Rink. This was my livelihood. At least it was until I could sell it and get back to the life I’d left in Chicago.

Dodging a teenage boy on Rollerblades, I pushed open the front doors and stepped into a heat wave. I squinted into the August sunshine in a search for Indian Falls’s finest. Aha! The former Indian Falls High football hero was lounging on his squad car, eating an ice-cream cone. A perfect example of our tax dollars at work.

I trotted across the parking lot to him. He did a once-over of me in my black shorts and fitted white tank top.

I shook my head. I can’t believe I’m actually coming outside in this heat to talk to you. Couldn’t you be obnoxious in the air conditioning?

Sean leered over his sugar cone. What can I say? I like seeing you sweat.

I fought the urge to stick out my tongue. Sean brought out the juvenile in me. Unhurried, Sean finished the last bite of his cone. He crumpled the paper wrapping and tucked it neatly in the front pocket of his jeans. No littering. He placed his hands on his hips, and his eyes narrowed. Have you seen Jimmy Bakersfield’s car?

You mean the magenta Volkswagen with the big orange rust spots and the ‘Nixon ’72’ bumper sticker? I laughed. Jimmy went everywhere in it. He’d bought the thing when it was new, decades ago. He even boasted the car still had the original paint—or what was left of it. Sean, everyone has seen that car.

Sean frowned. Have you seen the car today?

Sean was serious. He wasn’t poking fun at me or saying something sarcastic. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel like laughing. Why? I asked. Did something happen to Jimmy? Is he … you know … okay?

I swallowed hard, waiting for the answer. Two months ago, I’d come back to my hometown to sell my inherited rink and stumbled across the body of the town’s handyman—in the girls bathroom. Murdered. Two weeks after that, I’d ended up at the wrong end of a gun while tracking down the killer. Whoever said small-town life was peaceful hadn’t visited Indian Falls.

Sean gave me a superior look. Of course he’s okay. I can’t say the same for his car. Jimmy says it’s gone missing.

Missing? I blinked. As in stolen? Whoever had stolen that car had to be hard up. The car was a train wreck.

More likely, he left the keys in the car and some kids took it for a joyride. Either that or Jimmy got tanked and forgot where he parked it. Sean pulled a notebook from his back pocket. So you didn’t see the car parked in your lot today? He told me that’s where he last saw it.

I shook my head. I didn’t even know Jimmy was at the rink.

He wasn’t.

Sean and I turned at the sound of my grandfather’s voice. Smiling, Pop shuffled slowly down the sidewalk toward us.

I shook my head, wishing it was arthritis or old age inhibiting my grandfather’s movements. Pop’s black jeans were skintight. They made his white satin shirt look almost normal. It was unbuttoned to mid-chest, allowing tufts of steel gray hair to peep at unsuspecting passersby. These days, Pop moonlighted as an Elvis impersonator. Much to my dismay, he believed in living the job.

Jimmy was at the Senior Center all morning. Pop wiped a wrinkled hand over his sweaty brow. He went back there to call the cops when he saw his car was missing.

Sean was flipping though his notebook, doing his thorough cop thing, so I forged ahead. What was he doing parked here? The Senior Center is two blocks away.

Which is why he parked here. Pop gave me a Polygrip ad–worthy smile. Jimmy is kind of a ladies’ man. He needs exercise to stay in shape. Walking to the center helps him stay fit, and it keeps the car out of sight. Both score dates.

Sean read from his notebook. Jimmy said he parked his car at that end of the lot this morning.

Sean pointed toward the narrow parking area directly beside the rink, next to an empty gravel-filled lot. Two dark green Dumpsters were the only things sitting there now. Most people, including me, tend to park in the front. No wonder I hadn’t spotted Jimmy’s Technicolor ride.

Continuing in his best policeman’s voice, Sean said, "Jimmy walked to the center at nine o’clock this morning, where he played cards and watched The Price Is Right. After lunch, he came back to collect his car and discovered it was gone."

Lunch was later than normal, Pop offered. The center usually serves it at noon, but Eleanor and Marjorie got into an argument about a guy on one of those daytime dramas. Nobody wanted to go to lunch before the fight was over, in case there was bloodshed. Marjorie lunging for her knitting needles was the most exciting thing to happen at the center in ages.

Sean and I gaped at Pop.

Sean recovered first. He turned to me. Are you sure you didn’t see anything, Rebecca? His car was in your lot.

So were twenty other cars. Including my own. Still, I didn’t think it was smart to point out that detail. Sean wasn’t in the mood. Not a surprise. When it came to needing information from me, Sean was never in the mood.

Instead, I said, I was inside the office most of the day, but I can ask around the rink to see if anyone else did.

That’s a good idea. Pop bobbed his head up and down. Rebecca here is great at getting people to talk. People think of her as part cop anyway after solving— Ouch!

I’d elbowed Pop in time to stop him from finishing the sentence. Too bad Sean had heard enough. His eyes bugged out, then narrowed as he turned two shades of red.

Rebecca is not a member of the Indian Falls Sheriff’s Department. Sean’s voice sounded as if he’d taken a hit of helium. I’ll talk to the witnesses, and the two of you will stay out of it. Otherwise, I’ll arrest you myself.

With that announcement, Deputy Sean hitched up his gun belt and stalked across the parking lot toward my roller rink.

The minute he disappeared inside, I turned to my grandfather and demanded, Why did you have to say that? Now Sean’s going to start giving me jaywalking tickets while I’m standing on the sidewalk.

Pop shrugged while struggling to pull a handkerchief out of his front pocket. I wouldn’t worry. The sheriff will rip up the tickets. He likes you. Besides, I wasn’t saying anything that wasn’t true. People think of you as a local private detective. That’s why I walked down here. Jimmy wants to hire you.

For what?

The handkerchief came free from Pop’s pants pocket. The momentum sent him staggering back against Sean’s squad car. I moved to help him, but Pop waved me off.

Jimmy wants you to find his car, he explained while lounging on Sean’s cruiser. He doesn’t trust the sheriff or Deputy Sean to track it down. I can’t say I blame him. The cops couldn’t catch a killer. What chance do they have of finding Jimmy’s car?

A better chance than I do, since they’re looking and I’m not.

You can’t turn Jimmy down. Pop wagged his finger at me. I promised him you’d find his car. Everyone at the Senior Center is expecting it. If you don’t help find it, I’ll never be able to hold my head up at the center. Then what will I do?

My foray into criminal investigation had been a fluke, and a self-serving one at that. Solving the last crime had been the only way I could sell the rink and get my life back on track. Too bad the rink hadn’t sold right away. If it had, I wouldn’t have been having this conversation. I wouldn’t have had to disappoint my grandfather, whose shoulders had just slumped in a dejected manner. And was that sweat running down Pop’s cheek, or was it a tear?



Pop almost gave himself a hernia doing a victory dance in his painted-on pants.

But, I added, I’m not promising anything. I’ll just ask a couple of questions and see what I can learn.

Besides, Sean was probably right about kids taking the thing for a joyride. With any luck, the car would turn up later today, abandoned in a cornfield. Pop would be able to strut around the center, and I’d be off the hook. What was the harm?

I’m going back to the center to tell Jimmy. He’ll be relieved. Pop patted my cheek.

I nodded while walking with Pop to the sidewalk, but in my mind I was back in my office, holding the letter. Hey, Pop, I said. I got a note today from my father.

What’s that sorry excuse for a man want? Pop asked.

I took a deep breath and said, Stan is coming back here, to Indian Falls.

I don’t know what reaction I expected, but it wasn’t my grandfather fainting.


Sprawled on the ground, Pop blinked up at me. What happened?

I helped him get into a sitting position while taking deep breaths to calm my panic. You fainted.

Fainted? Pop snorted. I’ve never fainted in my life.

The cantankerous sound of my grandfather’s voice did my heart good. Pop was okay. Knowing that, I was able to smile.

Then what are you doing lying on the asphalt? I asked, trying to hide my amusement.

Pop sputtered for a moment, then announced, It’s because of these damn pants.

Pop struggled to get to his feet, and I helped haul him upright. Indignant, he said, The women at the center told me I had to wear tight pants in my Elvis act. Well, now I know why Elvis died so young. He probably hit his head after losing circulation in his … you know.

I did know, and I would have been a lot happier if I didn’t. Thinking about my grandfather’s … well, it made me a whole lot more uncomfortable than the sweltering heat.

Pop, I said, deliberately averting my eyes as he adjusted the crotch of his pants. While I would love nothing more than to blame your pants, they aren’t the reason you passed out.

Pop blinked at me. They’re not? Huh? You think it was the heat.

I think it was my saying my father is coming to town. Pop’s face went white. I took a step closer in case he went down again. Look, Pop, it’s no wonder you’re upset. You and Stan don’t have the best relationship.

Neither did I. Maybe it was genetic.

Pop shook his gnarled fist. I want to kill the hairy little wart. The man deserves it for breaking your and your mother’s hearts. Heck, his coming to town is a good thing. Gives me a chance to get some of my friends together and rough him up.

Something told me the septuagenarian Untouchables weren’t going to scare Stanley Robbins, but what did I know. My father might have a fear of disgruntled old guys.

Smiling at the bizarre image of Pop in a zoot suit, I said, You’re not going to rough up Stan.

Why? You want to do it?

Tempting. Too bad I had to take the moral high ground.

No, I said with regret. My absentee father kind of deserved roughing up. No one is going to touch him. In fact, I added, hoping for once my father’s faithless personality hadn’t changed, I doubt we even see him. When was the last time Stan actually did what he said he was going to do?

Pop squinted into the sunlight, thinking about my words. You’re right, he said with a frown. That man ain’t never going to set foot in this town. Too bad. I was starting to like the idea of giving him a good butt whopping. A couple of kicks to the keister would knock some much-needed sense into him.

He straightened his shoulders and took a shuffling step down the sidewalk, content to leave the topic of my wayward father behind. Come to think of it, I was, too. It was easier than dealing with the disappointment that always came along with Stan Robbins.

Looking back, Pop asked, Are you coming?


To see Jimmy. I’d think you’d want to talk to him. Pop smiled. Seeing as how you’re the detective on his case.

*   *   *

The Senior Center was a large yellow-and-white brick structure two blocks down the street from my roller rink. At one time, it had been the town’s high school. By the time I reached the age of pimples and hormonal angst, a larger high school had been built on the outskirts of town. This building had sat empty for years, until the town’s senior citizens commandeered it for bingo and bake sales. Now the place was a hotbed of activity for the over-seventy crowd.

Pop and I walked into the blissfully air-conditioned building, each scarfing down a large cookies-and-cream Blizzard. The Dairy Queen was conveniently located between the rink and the center. This was the real reason I’d agreed to talk to Jimmy.

The minute Pop stepped from the red carpet of the foyer into the beige-colored lobby, women appeared from every direction. A robust gray-haired woman in a yellow tank top came barreling down the blue linoleum-tiled hallway and skidded to a stop in front of my grandfather. My grandfather smiled at her, staring at her breasts. Not the most gentlemanly move. However, the woman wasn’t wearing a bra, which made them kind of hard to ignore.

Two white-haired ladies came scurrying from another linoleum-tiled hallway to the right. One lady was tall and thin, the other short and squat. Together, they stopped on the other side of Pop and glared at the lady in yellow. Then, as if on cue, all three women began to speak, vying for my grandfather’s attention.

Arthur, did you hear about poor Jimmy’s car? cooed the bouncing boob lady.

Not to be outdone, the short woman sighed and ran her fingers down Pop’s arm. I can’t believe the crime in this town. First the murder, now this.

Pop’s eyes looked a little wild as the tall woman began to gush. Single women like me, she said, with a pointed glare at the braless lady, have to be careful. I’m going to be scared to walk home on my own, unless a man like you would be willing to escort me.

Pop’s look of horror made me choke on my Blizzard. I coughed, trying to clear a piece of Oreo cookie from my throat, and four pairs of eyes swung in my direction.

Ditching his admirers, Pop shuffled over and gave me an enthusiastic thwack on the back with his ice cream–less hand. The jolt cleared my windpipe and sent me careening forward. Thank goodness the wall was there to break my fall. The fact that the women were more interested in Pop’s heroics than my antics made the episode embarrassing but bearable.

I straightened a skewed painting of a flowering cactus and said, Pop above the din of feminine voices. Isn’t Jimmy expecting us?

Pop flashed me a grateful dentured grin. Sorry, ladies, he said, removing the short lady’s hand from his arm. My granddaughter and I have important business with Jimmy. Since she proved to be such a crackerjack detective when solving the murder, Jimmy wants her to take over the investigation of the theft of his car.

Rolling my eyes, I grabbed Pop’s arm and marched him toward the hallway to our left. Before we could reach it, Pop turned around and said, Don’t forget to come to the show on Friday night. I’m going to be singing ‘Love Me Tender.’

I rolled my eyes again as a tittering of oohs and sighs followed us down the hall.

Why did you have to say that? I asked, letting go of Pop’s arm.

Pop shrugged. I need a big audience on Friday. I have an important agent from the Quad Cities coming to see my act. If things go well, I might get some casino bookings. Those pay good money.

I wasn’t referring to your commercial. Why did you tell them I’m taking over Jimmy’s investigation? Couldn’t you have told them we were going to play cards or something?

Pop looked shocked. I couldn’t lie to them. I gave him my best You have to be kidding look. Pop was a champion fibber. His lips spread into an unapologetic grin. Okay, I could have lied to them, but I didn’t think of it. Sue me. Those three are big fans of my Elvis act and they can get a little aggressive. Twice now they’ve tried to tear off my clothing. I didn’t think you’d want to see that.

Okay, I couldn’t fault him for that. Still, the Senior Center was the hub of Indian Falls gossip. An hour from now, everyone in town would have heard that I was butting into police business. Including Deputy Sean. I’d be behind bars by dinnertime.

Pop, however, didn’t seem concerned. Besides, they would have gotten the information out of Jimmy the minute we left. Jimmy doesn’t have my willpower. He’s a sucker for a pretty face.

We pitched our Dairy Queen cups in an empty trash can and kept walking. Pop led me past the dining room and the workout facilities before leading me into a small room with a television and a couple of worn armchairs. Slumped deep in one of the chairs, sleeping through a CNN report, was Jimmy Bakersfield.

The minute we walked through the door, his eyes sprang open and his head turned toward us. Jimmy smiled at me, and I couldn’t help smiling back. Everyone smiled at Jimmy. His eyes twinkled with laughter while surrounded by drooping, tanned skin weathered by age.

He stretched and pulled his large body upright. The movement caused his gray-and-brown-streaked comb-over to flop up and down. That combined with his tube socks, Bermuda shorts, and ragged flannel shirt suddenly helped me understand why the AARP women of Indian Falls considered my grandfather the catch of the county.

Hi, Mr. Bakersfield. I waved. I’m sorry to hear about your car.

Me, too. And call me Jimmy. Jimmy’s comb-over bobbed up and down. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I saw my car wasn’t where I’d left it. I’ve had that car for thirty-nine years, and someone up and stole it. How’s that for rotten luck?

I agreed it was very bad luck. Pop and I saw Deputy Holmes in the rink parking lot. He seems determined to find your car as soon as possible.

Bah! Jimmy waved away my reassuring words. Sean Holmes wouldn’t be able to find his own ass with a map and a flashlight.

Pop cleared his throat and gave Jimmy a fierce look. Then he glanced at me, sending a red flush climbing up Jimmy’s tanned face.

Jimmy hung his head. Sorry. I don’t normally use language like that in front of a young lady, but this thing with my car has me on edge.

I nodded sagely, trying not to laugh. Jimmy’s wizened old face looked so contrite, and for no reason. When it came to Sean Holmes, Jimmy and I were of like

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  • (5/5)
    I really liked this book. The setting and characters were so well described that I felt their fears, anguish, determination while reading.It is a mystery but also a coming of age tale about a 13-year-old hero who is both wild and good. It's also a police procedural where the line between job and personal work is blurred. It's a tale of loss and dependence on drugs, alcohol and an evil man.I highly recommend this book.
  • (5/5)
    This is an example of the classic mystery cast in tones of The Lord of the Flies - replete with red herrings galore and ultra-shocking twists. There are times when you read a book and it just continually amazes you - not just on the level of the story itself, but as regards the author's ability to structure and express a story in such a way that it maintains tension, delivers surprises, and fills each page with insight.John Hart is one of the best novelists writing today, and each page he writes shows the skill and care with which he crafts his stories. He has written four books, I've read them all, and I can't wait for the next one.
  • (4/5)
    There are many things to like about this mystery. The dimensionality of the characters is strong, as are their motivations and inner worlds. There are multiple villains, covert and overt. The pain suffered by the survivors of a terrible, violent crime is vividly and fully rendered. Surprisingly, a boy--the twin of the crime victim--escapes his grief by obsessively seeking the perpetrators and takes risks and experiences danger that his youth is not even able to recognize. Yet, he is the central character around which the action moves. The story is almost told in real time, and one viscerally feels the corrosive effects of an unsolved crime on the police tasked to solve it. Like a losing sports team, an unsolved major case causes locker-room arguments and doubts. Eventually, however, all is resolved, and yet this is a major weakness. Given the level of detail that precedes the conclusion, the resolution is unsatisfying and forgettable. With its slow pace, the reader spends a good deal of time in a small town in the South; and then suddenly all is understood and the town fades into memory. The book deserved a deeper, more resonant ending, one as rich as the crime reporting and the responses of family and police to new revelations.
  • (5/5)
    Johnny Merrimon is a 13-year old boy whose father has abandoned the family after Johnny’s twin sister Alyssa disappeared the year before. His beautiful mother is now existing on alcohol and pills provided by an abusive “friend”. Johnny skips school regularly in order to search out clues to Alyssa’s disappearance. Detective Clyde Hunt, the detective in charge of the case, has a soft spot for both Johnny and his mother. His failure at finding any trace of the girl weighs heavily on him. This is great story filled with fleshed out characters whose motivations and weaknesses are entirely human and understandable. Your heart will break for the main character, a child whose world was turned entirely upside down and who had to grow up and get tough way too soon. The resolution to the story made sense and was well done. I'd give it 4.5 stars.
  • (5/5)
    THE LAST CHILD by John HartA compelling read of loss, anger, fear, and murder. Johnny is just a child, but he is a child searching for his kidnapped twin sister and aided by a detective possessed of the same relentless need to find Alyssa. Then another young girl goes missing.The characters are clearly drawn, especially the giant of a child man. The setting is detailed and atmospheric. There are red herrings in plenty, but the plot is tightly controlled and moves along at a ever increasing pace. 5 of 5 stars
  • (4/5)
    Excellent reading.
  • (4/5)
    interesting ...
  • (4/5)
    A page turner
  • (4/5)
    Excellent thriller!
  • (5/5)
    It is a brilliant, yet horrible book. John Hart has managed to create a young hero who has not only suffered greatly since his twin sister went missing, but who continues to suffer whilst doing everything in his power to discover what happened to her. Johnny Merrimon believes that he can find his sister when the police, including Detective Clyde Hunt, have not been able to do so. Hunt begins to believe that Johnny is on to something when a man claiming to have found a girl dies in mysterious circumstances. Johnny's mother, Katharine, convinced that her husband, Johnny's father, ran away because he just could not cope with his daughter's disappearance, has received unpleasant and unwanted attention from local millionaire, Ken Holloway, who must be the most despicable and hateful character created in a long time.
    There is great development in the storyline of this book, and, despite many, many unpleasant and unhappy things taking place, the reason for my description of the book as horrible, there is some hope and some redemption at the end. Levi Freemantle is a very important participant in the story, with links to the slaving history of the area, but there is a high level of mystery about him, most of which is explained, though not quite all.
    I was engrossed.
  • (5/5)
    When 13 year old Alyssa Merrimon vanished one day, her disappearance shattered several people's lives, especially her parents who each sought different means to blunt the grief - the mother who turned to drugs to deaden the pain and the father, who left the family to run away from the pain. Johnny, Alyssa's twin brother, believing that Alyssa was still alive began to systematically investigate the small North Carolina town and its residents for clues to Alyssa's whereabouts. Johnny began his investigation after the failure of the local police to find his sister, a fact that haunts Detective Clyde Hunt, whose obsession over this case drove his wife away and threatens his relationship with his son.

    It is a shame that this book set unread for so long in my bookcase. This Edgar Award Winner would have become a new favorite read much earlier.
  • (1/5)
    I have to start by saying that I could not even finish this one. I started the book on July 24 and today is August 6 and I was only able to get through 175 of 350 pages.

    I simply did not care about ANY of the charaacters. There is a missing 12 year old girl, her twin brother, her mother who hooked up with the town sleaze ball and is now hooked on pain killers, father who left town, the detective, the twin brother's friend...and so on and so on and son. None of them were likeable or believeable.

    I did like that the chapters were short and for a short time I felt like I was making some progress.

    I can't recommend this for anyone.
  • (3/5)
    This is a thriller. There's lots of danger and it all builds to a dramatic conclusion. The last child is Johnny Merriman, a twelve year old boy whose twin sister disappeared a year earlier and whose family disintegrated as a result, with his father leaving and his mother retreating into alcohol and pills. He's lost his house and he's an outcast at school, his only friend being a police officer's son whose mangled arm makes him a pariah both at school and at home, where his older brother has just received a football scholarship. He spends his time avoiding his mother's abusive boyfriend and hunting for his sister's kidnapper. His sister's disappearance has also weighed down the lead detective on the investigation, whose wife divorced him and a son he's in the process of losing as he ignores him in favor of chasing down one more tenuous lead or checking up on the girl's family. And then another girl disappears.This is a fast-paced thriller designed to entertain, and Hart does a good job keeping things moving. He also paints a vivid picture of a very specific part of North Carolina, both the landscape and history. This is also a book full of giant plot holes and convenient stereo-types, but not so much as to make the book hard to read. I was not enamored with a few aspects of the novel's treatment of women, who were either impediments and mockable, or delicate flowers incapable of strength or fortitude. But not a terrible book overall.
  • (4/5)
    13-year-old Johnny is still recovering from his twin sister's disappearance a year earlier. His family has fallen apart -- his father has left and his mother lives in a haze of drug-induced semi-consciousness. His sister's disappearance is technically still an open case, but the police have no active leads. Thus, Johnny has taken it upon himself to scour the county, looking for clues in the hope that he might still find his sister alive. This is an above-average suspenseful thriller. The story has a cast of characters, the two main being Johnny and the lead detective on the case, Detective Hunt, with the action fluctuating between the two. It's a somewhat fresh perspective to see a crime case being driven by a 13-year-old, yet it wasn't wholly unrealistic and the several plot twists kept me engaged throughout the entire story. Overall, an engaging read.
  • (5/5)
    I loved this book - right down to the last few pages where the ending took a very unexpected turn. The Last Child is a mystery with a lot of twists and turns and once I started reading it, I could not put it down! I cannot wait to read other books by this author.
  • (5/5)
    A year after 12-year-old Alyssa Merrimon was abducted on her way home from the library, her twin, Johnny, hasn't given up hope of finding her. Johnny's father abandoned the family shortly after her disappearance, unable to live with the guilt of forgetting to pick her up. Johnny's mother dulls her pain with alcohol, drugs, and a man who hates Johnny. The case haunts the lead detective, Clyde Hunt. His obsession with the case drove his wife away and has alienated his son. Johnny is carrying out a methodical search for his sister since the police haven't found her. He can't afford to trust Detective Hunt, who will try to stop him from doing the only thing that matters now – searching for Alyssa. Johnny has only one friend he trusts – Jack, another damaged child.With so many characters in self-destructive spirals, the plot would seem to be predictable. Yet it wasn't. I was continually surprised by the twists the story took, and its ending was not obvious from the start. Nothing seems out of place in the rural North Carolina setting. It seems like the real small towns and communities I've driven through in that region. Johnny is an unforgettable protagonist. I understood his pain, and I desperately wanted him to find his way out of the darkness that surrounded him. I'm lukewarm about the audiobook. Some aspects of the narration were brilliant. However, the narrator's habit of pronouncing “a” and “the” with a long vowel rather than a short vowel grew from a minor annoyance to a major irritation by the end of the book. Sometimes he pronounced the words normally, and his inconsistent pronunciation just seemed to make it more noticeable.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent book. Well written with strong characters. The ability to portray a child character with depth and understanding. The book ties you up, keeps you reading and worries you along to the climax.
    I have not read the author's previous book but I will. I understand there is a new book coming soon.
  • (3/5)
    Audiobook performed by Scott Sowers

    Johnny Merrimon is a troubled young man. At thirteen he is shouldering far more responsibility and guilt than any child his age should carry. His twin sister disappeared a year ago, his father has left the family, his mother is lost in a fog of drugs, and his father’s former boss has insinuated himself into their home. Detective Clyde Hunt hasn’t given up searching, but he’s increasingly concerned for Johnny and his mother. Johnny won’t trust anyone – except his best friend Jack, who accompanies him on his search for the truth.

    What a ride! Plenty of twists and turns in the plot. I was sure I had it figured out (and, in fact, I did guess one of the bad guys), but I was still surprised by several events. Hart took a crooked path with many side trips and more than a few dead ends. Unfortunately I felt he was repetitive – how many times do I need a discussion between Johnny and Jack about whether Jack will succumb to his fears or stick by his friend to help him search. Ditto repeated descriptions of Hunt’s speeding through town to get to his next locale. I also wasn’t sure that much of the story regarding Levi Freemantle was necessary to the main plot. A good editor might have trimmed this by a hundred pages without losing any of the momentum or most of the plot twists.

    I loved Johnny. He was intelligent, tenacious, courageous and sensitive. If his success at figuring things out was a little unbelievable, I’m willing to forgive Hart for that. This is a child grasping at straws and truly left to his own devices to make sense of what has happened to his family and to try to put it back together. I couldn’t help but cheer him on.

    Scott Sowers does a fine job reading the audio version. He has good pacing and was able to sufficiently differentiate most of the characters. Occasionally, when two similar characters (Jack and Johnny, or Hunt and Yoakum) were in conversation it was a little difficult to tell who was speaking, but that was really minor.

  • (4/5)
    John Hart is a master, hands down. I'd managed to read three of his first four books but realized when waiting for the release of his 5th, Redemption Road, that somehow I'd missed The Last Child. The Last Child tells the heart-wrenching tale of what happens to the people left behind when a child disappears. Johnny Merrimon, 13, can't stop searching for his twin sister, Alyssa, a year after her disappearance that has ripped his family apart. His father abandoned him and his mother, over guilt and blame for forgetting to pick Alyssa up the day she disappeared. His mother, the town beauty, distraught over the loss of both her daughter and husband, allows herself to be controlled and abused, and by the local multi-millionaire narcissist, leaving Johnny to fend for himself.Johnny continues to look for his sister, going house to house, interviewing the entire county and keeping an eye on the top bad guys in town. Detective Hunt, still feeling the sting of not being able to bring Alyssa home, tries to keep Johnny out of trouble. A major clue literally falls at Johnny's feet in the form of a dying man claiming he "found her" ramps up his efforts with renewed fervor. With the help of Johnny's best, and only, friend Jack the two town outcasts find themselves in one horrific situation after another with Detective Hunt constantly one-step behind them. This book you will not be able to put down. The many characters that Johnny and Detective Hunt come in contact with are are so well-crafted. No more so than Issac Freemantle (a role made for Michael Clarke Duncan if there ever was one). I would say the mother is the only character that I really had a hard time believing and was lacking. The plot twists and turns will keep you guessing as the bodies stack up and there is no want for suspects. The books' ending is so well done you will be sad that it's over.
  • (5/5)
    Really enjoyed the characters in this book. Not a subject matter I usually go for, but the main characters really came to life. I could picture Johnny and Jack almost like I was watching a movie. Added to that were some unexpected twists and turns that really kept me interested. A very enjoyable read.
  • (5/5)
    A good story, richly southern gothic. The clumsy writing style is straight out of Dan Brown, though. I don't understand why these authors feel that they need to end every paragraph with three one-word sentences. "Midnight. Dawn. Six times, A dozen." What in blue blazes is that? The second half of the book really tightens up, though. It's as if the author found his voice and didn't feel the need to lean on clumsy old Dan Brown any more. Turns into a top notch detective story where the pieces all fit.
  • (4/5)
    This is a horrible book - in a good way. It's well written with superb characterization & a mystery that kept me wondering until the very end, but the basis of the story, child abuse & abduction, was heart-wrenching. I don't like books about kids being hurt & yet this one captivated me.

    The drive of the main characters was incredible, yet believable. They were flawed & noble, driven & swept away by events & powers outside their control. A cop haunted by a case he can't solve. His passions & compassion tearing his life, both official & personal, apart. A boy who can't stop looking for his abducted twin & treads the fine edge of insanity. A mother who is demolished by her losses struggling to continue for what she has left & the media circling like sharks. Secrets, mysteries, & lies abound. Who is good or bad isn't always easy to figure out.

    I can't say much without spoilers. I guess I could hide more under spoiler tags, but then I'd write a book. Just read it. If you like murder mysteries, this is one of the finest. Why only 4 stars & not 5? I never want to read it again & it added nothing to my life save for entertainment, but it was a hell of a ride.
  • (5/5)
    I LOVED this book. Fantastic. Johnny is a 13 year old boy whose sister went missing some time ago. Figuring the police don't care, Johnny takes it upon himself to look for his sister all over town. His mom, Katherine, is just broken. She is on pills, has a horrible boyfriend, and basically is emotionally shut down for Johnny. The lead detective, Clyde Hunt, has lost his wife over this case. What a great story written by John Hart. I can see why this book won awards. I think it might be one of my favorites I have read this year.
  • (4/5)
    Excellent book. Great character development within a small town setting. I never got bored with this story as there were always a turn of events. Totally unpredictable with no clue as to "whodunnit" until the very end. Always kept me engaged. As depicted in this story, sadly, many boys grow up way too fast in life living in dysfunctional homes with emotionally distant parents, surrounded by drugs and alcohol. Johnny, Jack, and all the other boys in this story demonstrate this. And, as also depicted in this story, there is always redemption, hope, and faith... both in people and in God.
  • (3/5)
    I enjoyed the plot of the book. It kept me wondering and thinking. But I felt that the book moved at a fairly slow pace until the last third. I also would have liked to see more depth to the book's themes and ideas. It didn't blow me away but it didn't entirely disappoint, either.
  • (5/5)
    It occasionally happens that I miss reading a book for a long time, and the more time that passes between its publication and my picking it up, the less inclined I am to follow through. It's a lame habit, of course, but working in the bookstore means I see new things come in nearly every day, and it's just easy to have newer books jump to the top of the list.

    I finally picked this one up,though, and had been reading it at the store when things were quiet. I got so close to finishing yesterday -- and the story was unfolding in such an extraordinary and heart-stopping way -- that I decided to just bring it on home to finish.

    Having done so just now, let me be very clear about this: YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.

  • (3/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    Stand by Me meets Silence of the Lambs in North Carolina. The preceding description doesn't quite capture the book but comes close. Last Child contains some of the small town elements that made To Kill a Mockingbird so memorable, but no where as nuanced or refined. Levi Freemantle is this book's Boo Radley, the innocent mammoth developmentally disabled adult. I found the over the top action, over powered the book's stronger but more subtle story line. I found the writing somewhat pedestrian, the book good but not excellent. Again, I didn't need a mound of bodies to make this book interesting, instead I thought it weakened the book's impact.
  • (5/5)
    I recently reread this book, which I never do. This book is a none stop thriller that holds you until the last page. A missing sister,a disappeared father, am mother gone to pieces and a boy who wants to find his sister and make the world right again. Add to this family dynamic a small town law enforcement officer who will not give up, a wealthy businessman who is a sleaze, the boy's troubled friend,an escaped convict, a ring of child pornographers and you have a book that gets better with each chapter. I could have read another 300 pages and still want more
  • (4/5)
    Hart's novel was of the search for what happened to Alyssa, a North Carolina girl who disappeared. The two individuals who were conducting their separate searches for this girl were her twin brother Johnny and Clyde Hunt, a police detective who felt personally attracted to this case. There were so many tangents to this book that I wasn't sure I'd be able to follow it all, being the kind of person who usually rejects detective novels. However, I found it an engaging read in that I could never figure out ahead of time what was going to happen. I actually found the untangling of the mystery very satisfying. If I liked this book, I'm sure that my detective mystery-loving husband will like it even more than I did. He's next in line for it now.