Published by St. Martin's Press on February 27th 2018
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I’ve been a fan of John Hart’s novels for years, ever since I read his gripping thriller The Last Child so I was beyond excited to get approved for an ARC of his latest novel, The Hush. My excitement grew even more once I started reading and realized that The Hush actually revisits the characters and landscape that I fell in love with in The Last Child.
The Hush takes place ten years after the horrifying events that rocked the lives of both thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon and the rest of the folks who lived in Johnny’s hometown. Over the years, even though he has shied away from the spotlight, people have written books and tried to exploit Johnny’s story, so whether he wants the attention or not, he has become somewhat of a local celebrity and is both feared and revered by those around him. When the novel opens, Johnny is now 23 years old and, desperate to retain some element of privacy in his life, is living as a recluse in the middle of 6,000 once-sacred, wooded acres known as The Hush.
Johnny’s only real connection to his former way of life is his childhood friend, Jack Cross, who has just finished law school and landed his first job as an attorney. I don’t want to spoil anything from The Last Child so I’ll just say that what these two boys went through in that novel has made their bond of friendship stronger than ever. Jack would literally do anything and give up everything for Johnny, and I think Johnny feels the same way about Jack. Even though I’d classify this book as a mystery/thriller, it is a moving story about friendship as well.
There is something strange and ominous about the place Johnny now calls home, however, and Jack senses its hidden dangers. He tries to talk to Johnny about it but Johnny doesn’t want to hear anyone speak ill of his beloved Hush. It becomes more and more clear that what happens in The Hush is not normal. Most people cannot navigate the wooded, swampy land. Landmarks seems to disappear or flat out move about, strange mists appear and lead to people getting disoriented. In fact, many who attempt to travel into The Hush don’t come out alive. Because he lives there, Johnny of course is immediately considered a suspect every time something happens. Jack knows his friend is innocent and makes it his mission to prove Johnny’s innocence, but big questions remain: What the heck is really going on in The Hush? Who else is interested in it and why are they willing to pay so much money for it?
One element of the story I liked right away is that, without completely rehashing the plot of The Last Child, Hart provides his readers with just enough background information to remind us why Johnny would choose such a secluded way of life. In that sense, The Hush works quite well as a standalone novel. You don’t need to have read The Last Child to follow along with this story. (I definitely recommend reading it though, just because it’s a fabulous read.)
I loved The Last Child so much, so it was also just a thrill for me to revisit this story, and especially the characters, Johnny Merrimon and Jack Cross, who were both just such compelling characters. It was wonderful to meet these boys again and see what kind of young men they have grown up to become and that Johnny has attained an almost mythic quality in the years since we left him. The mysterious events that are taking place in The Hush also have Johnny pitted against local law enforcement, who seem eager to pin something on him, so legendary as he is, Johnny is also cast in the role of underdog in this story, and I’m always one to root for the underdog.
Hart drew me into this story, not just by revisiting some of my favorite characters, but also with the mystery of The Hush. Johnny loves this place so much that even though he is on the verge of losing it if he can’t come up with the money to pay his taxes, he still won’t part with a single acre of it, not even when someone offers to pay him 10 times what it is worth. The connection between Johnny and The Hush is almost surreal – Johnny is literally one with the land, and the land is one with him. This intense connection captivated me immediately and had me zooming through the pages because I wanted to know how and why Johnny could have such a connection to the land, especially since it seemed to literally chew up and spit out anyone else who tried to venture onto it.
I’m also a huge fan of Hart’s writing style. It’s a given that it’s filled with exciting twists and turns by virtue of the fact that it’s a mystery, but what I love about Hart’s writing is his gorgeous prose. His descriptions, in particular of the landscape, are so lush and vivid that it’s easy to feel that you are right there with the characters. What I love most is that he achieves this without making it feel forced or flowery; the descriptions are fluid and effortless. I know he’s a writer so duh, but John Hart just really has a way with words. His descriptions of The Hush were especially well done and just so atmospheric, especially when someone besides Johnny ventured in. It was so beautiful and yet so creepy and ominous; I literally had goosebumps on my arms and felt like I was looking over my own shoulder for signs of danger.
Lastly, because I really don’t want to give anything away, I just want to say that I also love that Hart is willing to challenge himself by trying something different. Whereas most of Hart’s novels are straight mystery/thrillers, The Hush actually ventures over into magical realism territory and is infused with a bit of the supernatural. This was new and unexpected since that’s not what I’m used to with a John Hart novel, but I thought he did a fantastic job with it overall. It kind of felt like a mashup of a typical John Hart novel and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and since Beloved is a favorite of mine, it was a great fit for me.
There was only one time when I had any kind of an issue with The Hush and that was towards the end. I can’t really go into any detail without spoiling the plot, so I’m just going to say that it revolved around the supernatural aspect of the story. It’s hard to even explain what my issue really was except that it’s along the lines of me being willing to suspend disbelief and see where the author wants to take the whole supernatural thing, but then reaching a point where I’m like “Nope, too far. Reel it back in.” If you read The Hush, you’ll probably know the exact scene that I’m referring to as soon as you get to it. Aside from that one moment, I thought it was a fantastic read.
With his memorable characters and gorgeous prose, John Hart continues his streak of well-crafted stories with The Hush. If you’re looking for a mystery that will keep you guessing until the end and can open your mind to supernatural possibilities, The Hush should be right up your alley.
The only writer in history to win consecutive Edgar Awards for Best Novel, New York Times bestselling author John Hart returns to the world of his most beloved novel, The Last Child.
Building on the world first seen in The Last Child (“A magnificent creation” —The Washington Post), John Hart delivers a stunning vision of a secret world, rarely seen.
It’s been ten years since the events that changed Johnny Merrimon’s life and rocked his hometown to the core. Since then, Johnny has fought to maintain his privacy, but books have been written of his exploits; the fascination remains. Living alone on six thousand acres of once-sacred land, Johnny’s only connection to normal life is his old friend, Jack. They’re not boys anymore, but the bonds remain. What they shared. What they lost.
But Jack sees danger in the wild places Johnny calls home; he senses darkness and hunger, an intractable intent. Johnny will discuss none of it, but there are the things he knows, the things he can do. A lesser friend might accept such abilities as a gift, but Jack has felt what moves in the swamp: the cold of it, the unspeakable fear.
More than an exploration of friendship, persistence, and forgotten power, The Hush leaves all categories behind, and cements Hart’s status as a writer of unique power.