BookBrowse Reviews Redemption Road by John Hart

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Redemption Road

by John Hart

Redemption Road by John Hart X
Redemption Road by John Hart
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 432 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2017, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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A cop with challenges in her past and present must solve a case that upends her gut instincts about right and wrong.

Themes of loyalty, family, honesty and trust play out strongly in Redemption Road, which tells the story of North Carolina police detective Elizabeth Black. This is John Hart's first novel since Iron Hill (2011), a five-year publication gap (see 'Beyond the Book') from a best-selling author, who is also the only writer to win Edgar Awards for consecutive novels – Down River (2007) and The Last Child (2009).

From the opening scene, Redemption Road brings an array of damaged, complex characters to life. Black is on the hunt for a serial killer who strangles victims and leaves their bodies draped in white linen on the altar of a church. Then there is Gabriel, a teenager who steals his father's gun and sneaks out into the night to confront Adrian Wall, the man convicted of murdering his mother. Wall, a former police officer, bears mental and physical scars as a result of his time inside, and is about to be released on parole.

Since her involvement as a police officer in Gabriel's mother's murder investigation, Elizabeth Black has remained close to the boy despite the fact that she has never been sure that Adrian Wall was really guilty. Soon after Wall is released, however, a woman is found dead: murdered and arranged on the altar in an abandoned church, just as Gabriel's mother was thirteen years earlier. Elizabeth finds herself questioning her instincts about Adrian. In addition, returning to the church she attended as a child, stirs up haunting memories from the past she would rather forget.

As the novel's protagonist, Elizabeth Black is an engaging and multifaceted character facing challenges from the past and the present. When the story opens, she has just been suspended pending an investigation into a case involving the kidnapping of a teenage girl, Channing.

Hart, who has been much praised for his stand-alone crime novels, takes on a female main character for the first time in Redemption Road and it is a challenge he embraces well. In his words, Elizabeth is "not just strong but deep, not just alive but living, bleeding, fighting." She is surrounded by other believable and complex characters: her partner Beckett; her religious parents; Channing, and the wonderfully named Crybaby Jones, a lawyer who comes out of retirement to defend Adrian Wall. They combine to bring an emotional depth to the twisting plot and elevate this thriller into a more complex psychological drama.

The imaginary North Carolina town where Redemption Road is set, is a dark place. It should be noted that violence, sexual abuse and torture are all on display here, but despite the grim subjects, this is a novel that lives up to its title. The road to redemption for many of Hart's characters is as rocky and twisting as you would hope for in this genre, with a conclusion that is highly satisfying.

Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in June 2016, and has been updated for the May 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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