I have a weakness for compelling, lyrical writing. I also have a weakness for page-turning, character-driven suspense. Sometimes I am lucky and find authors who can do both really well. Two writers who come to mind are Dennis Lehane and James Lee Burke. And now I can add another name to that list: John Hart. His new suspense novel, Redemption Road, is one of my favorite books of the year so far.
Redemption Road’s two main characters are flawed and haunted yet sympathetic. Police detective Elizabeth Black is estranged from her preacher father and now faces charges that she used excessive force by killing two suspects. Adrian Wall is an ex-cop who just got out of prison after serving 13 years for a murder he did not commit. Even though he finally has his freedom, Adrian longs for revenge against the corrupt prison warden and his guards who tortured and beat him.
In the meantime, a serial murderer is on the loose, abducting young women, then torturing them before killing them. When a new body is discovered right after Adrian is released from prison, the police immediately think he did it. Elizabeth, who is convinced that Adrian was innocent of the original murder charge that sent him to prison, tries to help him. Of course, things are never that easy when both characters are being hunted by the police.
I was fortunate to meet the author at last year’s Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Raleigh, N.C. Hart, a former defense lawyer, hails from North Carolina and it shows from his ability to create a strong sense of place. He was won many mystery awards and is the only author to twin back-to-back Edgars for King of Lies (2007) and Down River (2008). The Last Child also won an Edgar in 2010. I wouldn’t be surprised if Redemption Road brings him more accolades during the next awards season.