Award Winning Road Trip Mystery: North Carolina

The Great American Road Trip

Destination: North Carolina (The Sand Hills)

Book: The Last Child by John Hart (2009) Winner of this year’s Edgar Awards for best Mystery Novel


North Carolina Sandhills

John Hart nails the small towns of central North Carolina in the gripping mystery, [amazon_link id=”0312642369″ target=”_blank” ]The Last Child.[/amazon_link] I have never visited the Sandhills, but my curiosity is piqued. The Sandhills mark an ancient ocean front–leftover dunes separate the Piedmont zone from the coastal plains. The aberration of geography creates a place of eerie charm but not much wealth.

I am intrigued by the fact that I came away with a clear view of the area and the people, but paragraphs of description are nearly non-existent in the book.  The author skillfully led me into the heart of the Sandhills by dialogue and story.

For those who like their literature to come in neat categories, Hart’s novels sit in the box called “Southern Gothic.”  For us here at A Traveler’s Library, his book is a destination mystery, a tour guide to one of the stops on the road trip, a different kind of travel literature.  But I must admit, I couldn’t be happier when a book goes WAY beyond the criteria of recreating a place and culture. The Last Child scores on several fronts–fascinating and original characters, a plot to keep you breathing hard (or holding your breath), and delightfully readable writing.

The child of the title is a modern day Huck Finn, with a whole lot more book smarts. His twin sister disappeared a year ago, his family fell apart and his mother is kept in a dazed-by-drugs condition by the local power broker. Johnny decides to take the law in his own hands, despite the attempts of the leading good guy/ police detective to protect the kid from himself.

Everybody knows everybody in this rural county, which sometimes makes the policeman’s job easier and sometimes harder. Having a 13-year-old drive the plot puts a unique twist on what could be a familiar pattern of police procedural. But no danger of boring structure from  Hart, who  is an ambitious writer who does not take the easy way out with his writing. While the kid has enough good traits to make us cheer for him, there is nothing saccharine here, and sometimes you want to shake him.

More bad guys and more dead bodies than any county should have to cope with keep the reader guessing and the pages turning.

Author John Hart

Hart posts updates on his books at his website, and The Last Child seems to have won awards nearly every month since it first appeared in review copies.  His prior novels, King of Lies and Down River both won Edgar awards, also. (Not just a nomination–the top award.)

The picture to the right comes courtesy of  Hart’s web site, and the picture above from the site of the North Carolina Sandhills Weed Management Area. I owe gratitude to the publisher for providing the review copy of this book, and to the publicist for the Edgar Awards, Lisa Richardson, for alerting me to the finalist mysteries with strong sense of place.

I have written previously about the Edgar nominees, and my personal favorite Jo Nesbo, however, John Hart definitely deserves all those kudos he receives. ( But Jo Nesbo definitely has the coolest web site!)

A Traveler’s Library has previously discussed destination mystery novels from Massachusetts, Michigan, Venice, Virginia, Sweden, Yosemite. There’s no place without a mystery, it seems.

Of courese there are mountains in North Carolina, too, and Music Road finds music for the Road Trip all over North Carolina. Pick up your music at Music Road.

Have you traveled to the North Carolina Sandhills? Share your experiences. Should we go?

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

5 thoughts on “Award Winning Road Trip Mystery: North Carolina

  1. I definitely want to get this book!!! (and now with my e-reader I can!)….it has been fun ‘catching up’ on all your suggestions of books- I just load them on and whenever I get the chance (five minutes here a couple minutes there) and I get to ‘taste’ a bit of this book and that book.

  2. I wish there was a way to post this under Dara Llwellyn’s name, because she’s the one who wrote it. Isn’t it lovely?
    The North Carolina Sandhills have their own laws of nature and are more sand than hills.One can drive for miles, traveling straight, flat roads through cotton, tobacco, and soybean fields. This agricultural landscape broken by pine forests and occasional farm ponds where teens still go skinny dipping. People give directions by landmark: Go past the soybean mill, through two stop signs, past that house with the red swing in the front yard, and it’s about a mile beyond that. Hound dogs wander the landscape. Ask why they have a peculiar gait and you get a two-word response: briar creep. What grass can overcome the sand is threaded though with sands spurs, a lethal little sticker vine that threads its way among the grass. Dogs learn to step hesitantly.

    I’ve visited this area many times since the mid-sixties to see friends from college who grew up in the Lauringburg-Laurel Hill vicinity, and the mood is always laid back and somehow celebratory. Local ball teams that go back several generations can be found holding playoffs in backyard ball lots on the weekend. If you’re invited to dinner locally, you’re surrounded by by the host family, their friends, various cousins,and stray visitors like yourself at a feast with sweet tea, friend chicken, field peas, corn, and a wide choice of desserts. Something is always happening somewhere in the neighborhood; there’s always some where to go. In fact, there’s a cook out just down the road; turn left out of the drive and after you go over the bridge, wait for the stand of ferns before the soybean field starts, and take the drive . .

  3. This author sounds right up my alley. Edgar winner, a bit of Southern Gothic. I’m there, if I can find his work here in NZ.
    .-= Melanie hopes you will read blog ..Spice It Up =-.

  4. My sister belongs to the mystery book club of Boise! I will pass this review along to them! Thanks for reviewing John Hart’s “The Last Child” -r

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