Building on the world first seen in The Last Child, The Hush by John Hart delivers a stunning vision of a secret world, rarely seen (available February 27, 2018).
For 150 years, the Freemantle family has owned the 6,000 acres of North Carolina know as Hush Arbor. But the last male Freemantle heir just died, so the land reverts back to the original owners: the Merrimons. The last Merrimon, Johnny Merrimon—a wild and reclusive young man—lives hermit-like in the Hush, visited only by his childhood best friend, Jack Cross. However, Johnny’s relative peace and Jack’s burgeoning law career are both challenged when Cree Freemantle comes to stake her claim to the land.
Over a century of mysterious rumors surround this tract of land. Men disappearing or driven mad. Geographical features that shift. Majestic creatures shot by trespassers. Johnny, Jack, and Cree find themselves caught up in this web of magic and mystery. As they try to untangle their legal difficulties, they discover they are caught up in something far more sinister than they ever imagined.
The Hush by John Hart is the second novel featuring Johnny Merrimon and his best buddy Jack. They previously appeared as intrepid 13-year-olds in The Last Child. The Hush is a novel that is reminiscent of many Southern Gothic novels: hanging trees, slave graveyards, gritty characters who have seen the inexplicable, and a history that refuses to be buried.
While reading The Last Child first may help give some insight into the relationship between Johnny—the “Little Chief”—and Jack (and it will definitely fill in some gaps with Johnny’s family), Hart manages to weave the rich backstory into his narrative without a hiccup. The two men are fully drawn characters with a relationship that is easy to get behind. We all kind of wish for best friends like these….
He ghosted onto dry land, the cabin a wink through the trees. Johnny sat at a table beyond the ferns, barefoot in faded jeans with both eyes closed and his face tilted to the sun. His hair was longer than last time, and for an instant Jack felt the old jealousy. Johnny was angular and strong, and had the kind of face that even men looked at twice. He wasn’t move-star handsome, but striking was too small a word. With the tan and dark eyes, he looked like a hero from old stories, the kind who fought with swords and got the girls.
Jack’s gaze fell briefly to his own misshapen arm. Hanging from his shoulder, it looked like the castoff from a ten-year-old boy. The suit sleeve swallowed it; even the fingers were too small. It’s how people had known him, growing up. Oh yeah, the kid with the fucked up arm. Only Johnny understood that talking about it made it a nonissue, that joking was even better.
And Johnny was close now, legs stretched out, eyes still closed. Jack stopped under the last tree and bounced a pebble on his palm. The throw had to be just right—not in the face and no blood, but hard enough to sting like a mother. That’s how it had been since they were kids.
Who was quietest?
Who had the best arm?
He smoothed a thumb across the stone, and Johnny spoke as the arm went back.
“Don’t do it.”
“Goddamn it, Johnny.” Jack lowered his arm, not surprised but genuinely bothered. “How do you do that? You do it every time. It’s not right.”
But even more compelling than the central friendship is the visceral sense of place Hart develops. Johnny has spent years in the Hush when we meet him. He’s in tune with everything around him. So, when something goes wrong, he knows. Sure, he can predict when his best friend is about to throw a rock at his head, but it goes further than that. Johnny is a part of the Hush, and the Hush is a part of Johnny.
He spends the night in trees. He knows when fish will leap to the surface of the river. And the longer he spends out in the wilderness, the more Jack is concerned for him. Johnny doesn’t spend time with his mother or stepfather. Johnny hates going into town. But as Jack—newly returned to town with his law degree—spends more time in the Hush with Johnny, he notices that circumstances are even stranger than they appear.
Take Johnny’s mysterious healing powers, for example, after a particularly nasty fall:
By the time Jack returned to the small apartment he kept above a bakery downtown, his suspicion had only grown. Something in Johnny’s laugh, and the way his eyes moved. With the door locked and lights off, Jack pulled off muddy clothes, lay on the bed, and considered the very real chance his best friend was a liar. The thought troubled him, and Jack chewed on it for a long time, hating it; but it was in dreams that a more disturbing truth found him. He stood in black water, and in the wan light Johnny was shirtless beside him. His eyes were half-closed, his hands turned up as if to catch a falling rain. Everything was real: the water on his shins, the cold air and fear. Jack watched Johnny point but was afraid to look.
“It’s not possible.”
But it was.
Johnny’s stepfather had spoke to Jack of injuries from a fall, of bruises black as ink and cuts so deep, they went halfway to the bone. That’s why he’d called Jack in the first place, because Johnny had fallen and almost died. With the bourbon and the mist, Jack had forgotten, but not now. He wanted to deny the sudden truth, but blinked and saw Johnny, as he’d been last night, and not just in a dream. He was shirtless and still and flawless.
There wasn’t a mark on him.
Jack is disturbed by Johnny’s increasingly unnatural nature. Then, the violent, gruesome deaths start occurring and Johnny—the only man around for miles in the heart of Hush Arbor—is the only possible suspect in a series of impossible murders.
The Hush is a visceral, atmospheric novel covering 6,000 acres and 150 years of troubled history. John Hart has written a worthy follow-up to his well-received The Last Child. Readers old and new will look up from the pages sometime around midnight, flooded with relief that they’re safe in bed and not out in the twisting trails of Hush Arbor.
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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing, feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.
Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.