This book has been vying for my love for a long time. I originally got my hands on a signed copy at my Adult Literacy League auction (originally donated by Rhapsody Jill). The book had gotten rave reviews and had just won an Edgar in 2010.
I read John Hart's more recent book "Iron House" and enjoyed it.
Then recently, Carrie talked about her experience with the audio version. I find it funny how, if I have a book in print on my shelf, I don't even consider the option of listening to the audio. But that is exactly what I did.
Synopsis: One year ago, 13 year-old Johnny's twin sister Alyssa was abducted while walking home and has never been seen again. Johnny's father assumed the responsibility of the tragedy, since he had forgotten to pick her up, and presumably burdened with guilt, has left Johnny and his mother. Johnny's mother has since taken up with an abusive but wealthy local businessman, who allows her to live in one of his dilapidated rentals, and keeps her supplied with drugs. Investigating detective Clyde Hunt has also suffered, allowing his failed attempt at recovering Alyssa to break up his marriage and alienate his teenage son.
Johnny spends his time searching for his sister, since the police are of no use. He tracks child molesters and hardened criminals, looking for the mysterious person who stole his sister and his life away. Then another child goes missing. And Johnny witnesses an accident, one in which a motorcycle driver is run off a bridge by another car, and the dying victim claims to have "found the lost girl".
In his determined quest to discover the fate of his sister, Johnny and his best friend meet a giant who has escaped prison and is on a mission of his own. Not only will this man reveal truths about the sordid history of their hometown, but about Alyssa and themselves.
My opinion: When it comes to the thriller genre, it really doesn't get any better than this. This story was so rich and complex, it almost defies a category. The characterizations are incredibly complete, all the way down the line of the supporting cast. Real, flawed, authentic personalities are not just saved for the main protagonists.
But if you want to talk about the lead characters, Johnny and Clyde were worthy of their roles. Johnny has been described as a cross between Opie Taylor, Scout Finch and Huck Finn, and I don't think I could do any better. He is innocent yet wise beyond his years. He is smart but doesn't really care about the rules. He will do whatever it takes to protect his mother and find his sister. Clyde would have been an easy person to dislike - he has completely failed his son for the sake of his job. He also has an unhealthy obsession with Johnny and his mother. But we, as readers, are allowed to understand that he is nothing if not earnest.
This is not a one-dimensional mystery. We care about Alyssa, we care about the newest child taken, we care about the poor guy on the motorcycle, we care about the suffering giant. We care that Johnny's mother is going to lose Johnny to the authorities if she isn't careful. But we know early on that the issues aren't necessarily all connected to the underlying plot thread, nor is it necessarily going to resolve all questions with a happy outcome. It is about real life, and life is messy and unpredictable. So prepare to have your heart broken. Maybe more than once.
Despite the darkness, the disturbing images and senseless death, you will exit this experience satisfied in ways you didn't think possible with a book from the thriller genre.
A few words about the audio production: With any novel based in the South, I feel it is critical to nail your accents. The narrator, Scott Sowers (who has narrated three John Hart books), overall did a wonderful job in this area. But there were a few issues that just kept bothering me throughout the experience. Certain words were pronounced distinctly un-Southern, like saying "bean" instead of "been", or "agayn" instead of "again". I don't know...it seemed very Canadian or something, and it drove me to distraction. I've asked several people who have spent time in North Carolina, which is where this story is based, and they have never heard such a thing, so I'm not sure where this is coming from. In the midst of an incredible book, this was my only complaint.
4.5 out of 5 stars