"Redemption Road" (St. Martins/Dunne), by John Hart
John Hart's first four novels earned two Edgar Allan Poe Awards and one nomination, as well as a myriad of other awards.
Five years have gone by since his fourth novel, 2011's "The Iron House," was published, but "Redemption Road" proves the wait was worth it. While Hart's previous mysteries were atmospheric tales enhanced by aspects of the Southern novel, "Redemption Road" is fueled by more of a thriller plot with acute attention to its well-sculpted characters. As the title implies, Hart's novel is about redemption, but also about trust and betrayal, and those emotional roads that most of us never want to travel.
Deeply troubled North Carolina police detective Elizabeth Black prowls the streets of her hometown, wondering if she will be charged with murder. While rescuing kidnapped teenager Channing Shore, Elizabeth killed the two men who were sexually assaulting the teen in a desolate house. The case became a political hand grenade. Channing, who is from a wealthy family, and Elizabeth are both white; the two assailants — caught in the act of assaulting the teen — are both black. Elizabeth shot them 18 times. Did she use excessive force?
Meanwhile, former police officer Adrian Wall's first day of parole ends with him being wounded by Gideon Strange, the teenage son of the woman he served 13 years in prison for murdering. Elizabeth never believed Adrian was guilty, remaining connected to him because of an incident when she was a teen. Through the years, Elizabeth and her parents had treated Gideon like a family member. The local polices target Adrian when another woman is murdered following his release.
Hart ties the two plot threads in a gripping, believable story that doesn't rest until the last sentence.
"Redemption Road" spins on emotionally complicated relationships and realistic conspiracies that affect each character's life and choices. "A stupid crime and a simple misdirection, prison and pointless death, ripples on some foreign shore," Elizabeth contemplates. The daughter of a preacher with whom she's estranged, the forceful Elizabeth harbors dark secrets of her own that go beyond what happened in that abandoned house's basement.
"Redemption Road" contains a more ambitious plot than Hart's previous novels, and he weaves this seemingly far-flung story with aplomb.