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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“The Hush”

In his latest novel, ìThe Hush,î award-winning author John Hart takes readers back to Raven County, North Carolina, with characters he first introduced in his earlier novel, ìThe Last Child.î Ten years have passed since the events of that story. Johnny Merrimon, now 23, lives in what some would call a near-feral state on 6,ooo acres known as Hush Arbor. Once home to a slave settlement, it is a wild land where locals fear to tread because of dark, strange things that happen there. Those who know Johnny do not understand the power of the Hush or why he is so fiercely compelled to protect it ñ- and its mystical secrets.Johnnyís childhood friend, Jack Cross, has just landed a job at a prestigious local law firm. Having a friend who is a lawyer comes in handy with Johnnyís ongoing legal battle to protect the Hush from a family who claims the land is rightfully theirs. One of Johnnyís ancestors deeded Hush Arbor to a freed slave named Isaac Freemantle, but a reversion clause transferred ownership back to Johnny when Isaacís last male heir died. Cree Freemantleís mother, Luana, wants to sell Hush Arbor for the wealth it would bring, but young Cree staunchly opposes the idea because of her own spiritual connection to the land.Jack asks one of his firmís partners to represent Johnny, in part because he fears failing his best friend in court. But the firm winds up representing William Boyd, a billionaire hedge fund manager whom Johnny once shot at because Boyd was poaching game animals in Hush Arbor. Boyd has offered to buy Johnnyís land for a staggering sum of $30 million, but Johnny has repeatedly refused. When Boyd turns up dead in the Hush, Johnny becomes the prime suspect.Jack is forced to choose between helping his friend and securing a lucrative position in the law firm, but he knows he has to do the right thing. Jack might not understand Johnnyís desire to live in the Hush, but ìit was Jackís place to be there for him.îFrom his own experiences, Jack suspects that Boydís killer is not a who, but a what. Boydís broken body shows a level of torture no human could inflict, and his hunting partner on that fateful day has literally gone insane from what he witnessed. But even Jack is not prepared for the horrors unleashed as Hush Arbor protects itself and its most loyal defender from an overzealous sheriff and his posse. Some become lost in the swamps and woodlands, walking in endless circles. Others die under inexplicable circumstances. When Johnny is critically injured by the revenge-seeking family member of a victim, the Hush draws him back into its fold to heal.Part of Johnny and Creeís spiritual connection to Hush Arbor manifests itself in dreams where they each see events unfold through the eyes of their respective ancestors. Eventually the adversaries work together to solve the mysteries behind their shared experiences, uncovering generations-old human-inflicted atrocities in the process.The Hush is one of those stories in which the setting is a character unto itself. Hart is a master at portraying both the natural beauty of his native North Carolina and its cultural undercurrents. Readers should make a point to savor his literary quality prose and not rush through it. While a mystery tinged with elements of magical realism may not suit everyone, Hart has crafted a unique and interesting tale that stands apart from his earlier works while adding to his reputation as a premier novelist.Although ìThe Hushî is a follow-up to ìThe Last Child,î it works well as a stand-alone novel since Hart deftly interlaces enough information from the previous story to explain relevant points. It is not necessary to read the earlier book, but doing so might give the reader a deeper understanding of the events that shaped Johnny and Jack into the men they have become. Besides, having read all of Hartís books, I donít think you can go wrong with any of them.

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