The Last Best Book — Down River, by John Hart

The latest in an occasional series of comments on books that knocked my socks off!

DOWN RIVER, John Hart (St. Martin’s, 2007, audio 2011), winner of the 2008 Edgar Award for Best Mystery

I was given this audio book years ago at a Bouchercon, the international mystery convention, and stashed it in the console of my car for later listening. There it sat until late last summer, when I had an audio emergency—I had finished my last audio book and the library was closed, so I couldn’t sneak in for another before heading over the mountains to visit my elderly mother.

This was just the book I needed.

Adam Chase is about to turn 30 and he’s headed home to the North Carolina farm that’s been in his family since before the war—the Revolutionary War. Only a few people will welcome the young man with a streak of violence who left after being acquitted of murder—in a trial in which his own stepmother testified against him. Now there’s another murder, and the secrets come rushing down the river, threatening to sweep all the family away.

Hart portrays emotional tension beautifully, and the mystery itself is solid. Where he really shines is the interconnection between character and setting. I felt like I knew Red Water Farm, because of the way it defines the lives of Adam, his father, a close family friend, and other characters.

If like me, you’ve heard Hart’s name but haven’t read him, do. The King of Lies (2006), was a finalist for the Edgar for Best First Novel, and The Last Child (2009) also won the Edgar for Best Mystery. His books have been nominated for and received several other awards as well. His fifth book, Redemption Road, came out in May, 2016.