Mystery Maestro: Hart's Book Currently No. 10 on NYT List
"I think I'm going to stay in the book business," said John Hart, former Salisbury attorney-turned-author, after his second novel, 'Down River,' was published in 2007.
"If 'Down River' does better in sales than 'King of Lies,' that will help," he said. "If the third book does even better, I feel like I'm in for the long haul. One success is great, two is nice, but I'll be OK when I have three."
With the publication this month of his third mystery thriller, "The Last Child," Hart is more than just OK.
According to the critics, "Hart firmly cements his place alongside the greats of the genre" (Library Journal starred review). "Not that we need any further proof, after the superb 'King of Lies' and 'Down River.' His characters are given an emotional depth that genre characters seldom have, and the graceful, evocative prose lifts his stories right out of their genre and into the realm of capital-L literature" (Booklist starred review).
Thursday, May 28, at 4 p.m., John Hart will make his third visit to The Country Bookshop in downtown Southern Pines.
"When John was here in May 2006, with his first novel, critics were calling him the next John Grisham and Scott Turow," says Bonnie Johnson, the manager of the bookshop. "We're so happy their predictions have come true."
Hart's debut novel, "The King of Lies," was named one of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly and a dozen other publications around the country. It was nominated for the Edgar, Barry, Anthony, and Macavity Awards for the Best First Novel; was shortlisted for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Book of the Year Award, and won the SIBA Gumshoe Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. It has been published in 26 languages in over 30 countries.
His second novel, "Down River," published in October 2007, won the 2008 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award -- the Oscar of mystery fiction, was a Book Sense Pick for 2007, was nominated for SIBA and Barry Awards, and was selected as one of the 100 Best Books of the Year in the U.S. and England.
"'Down River' should settle once and for all the question of whether thrillers and mysteries can also be literature," wrote the reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
Hart, 43, is thrilled when his novels are called "literary crime fiction."
"I like thrillers that have literary value," he says. "To me 'literary' means character-rich, emotionally powerful, detailed, interactive stories in which characters live and breathe. If I could have a legacy, it would be to write great mystery thrillers with those elements that people cannot put down."
Critics are calling "The Last Child" his "best novel yet," drawing comparisons with Pat Conroy and Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird."
"Everybody from the president of the publishing house down to my wife and myself agree that it's the best one by far," Hart says.
In "The Last Child" Johnny Merrimon is a 13-year-old boy who had a Mayberry-esque North Carolina childhood -- happy parents and a twin sister, Alyssa, who meant the world to him. But when she is stolen off the side of a lonely street, his family is shattered.
Although she is presumed dead and the trail has gone cold after a year, Johnny risks everything to explore the dark side of his hometown in a last, desperate search. What he finds is a city with an underbelly far blacker than anyone could've imagined, and somewhere in the depths of it all, with the help of his only friend and a giant of a man with his own strange past, Johnny, at last, finds the terrible truth.
"The idea for Johnny came from the opening scene of 'Down River,'" Hart says, "where the hero stops at the river and meets a young boy fishing. Writing the scene, I fell in love with the idea of this kid. He was about 10, happy on his old bike and in his blown-out shoes. I never named him, but he had what in my mind was this perfect childhood. He never reappears in the book, but I found myself asking, 'What could happen to take such a wonderful life away from a boy like that, how would he react to the brutality of his changed circumstances, and where would he find the strength to deal with it?
"Writing any kind of thriller with a child as its protagonist presents a huge challenge. It was tough building sufficient danger and action around one so young while still making the novel work as a thriller. There were other challenges, too: finding a convincing voice for a traumatized 13-year-old kid, writing believable dialogue between boys that age, and thinking of ways that a powerless kid might seek some kind of control, then making that quest event remotely credible."
After 15 months writing "The Last Child," Hart says, "it's taking me a long time to start book four -- because of Johnny."
John Hart lives with his wife, Katie, their two daughters, and Tom, a yellow lab, in Greensboro.
For information call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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