Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s Press, $27.99, 417 pages, ISBN 978-0-312-38036-6
One of my personal frustrations in life is that at any given time, there’s a pile of forty to sixty or more books on my bookcase waiting to be read and reported on. Well Okay, you say, What’s wrong with that? Sounds like job security to me . . . True, but here’s the exasperating part. The shelf life in bookstores for new novels is around 90 to 120 days. After that, they’re remaindered—returned to the publisher—to be sold by weight at scrap prices to discount sellers. Back in the bookshops, the shelves are restocked with the newest best-sellers and the process repeats itself over and over again. Consequently, the pressure’s always on the columnist . . . yours truly . . . to keep ever up-to-date reviewing the latest and greatest of new releases. It’s a vicious, never-ending cycle and I have bite marks all over my backside from the dog-eat-doggedness of it all. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my long-winded exculpation for failing to report on one of last year’s brightest and best and most literate crime novels to come down the pike in quite a while. With many thanks to Otto Penzler at The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City for calling it to my attention, here ‘tis.
Redemption Road, by John Hart was first published in May 2016. It is the story of a southern town full of lies, secrets, betrayals, and nearly unbearable tension. It’s also filled with such drama, suspense, and deep understanding of human shortcomings that each page almost groans with the weight of it all. As the novel begins and the complex plot starts to unfold, a convict is about to be released from prison after serving thirteen years of a much longer sentence for murder. He’s an ex-cop, one of the shiniest ever to wear a badge . . . until a woman was found murdered on the altar of an old and revered local church with his DNA under her nails and scratches on his neck. His name is Adrian Wall, and waiting for him upon his release, is a thirteen year-old boy named Gideon Strange. He was only an infant when his mother died but now, he plans to shoot and kill the man who went to the penitentiary for her murder. At the same time, the only cop to believe in Wall’s innocence, a fellow detective named Elizabeth Black, has troubles of her own. She’s under investigation for the shooting deaths of two men who had kidnapped a young woman and were taking turns abusing her in the basement of an abandoned house. She may be a heroic cop who went in alone—or an avenging angel who put eighteen nine millimeter rounds into the perpetrators. All of that happens in just the first couple of chapters in this dynamic thriller with new revelations on every page, surprises by the boatload and more twisting turns than the path to perdition and the road to ruin put together. Redemption Road is a novel you’ll think about long after you’ve read it, and John Hart is an author you’ll always be on the lookout for, for the same reason. He’s awesome!