John Hart’s turn to the supernatural

By: D.G. Martin - Contributing columnist

New York Times bestselling author John Hart, who grew up in Salisbury, is not afraid to take risks, including those with high stakes.

In fact, he seems to thrive on these risks. For instance, he gave up his job as a stockbroker about 15 years ago to complete his first literary thriller. That risk-taking paid off when his book, “The King of Lies,” became a Times bestseller in 2006. Three other successes followed: ”Down River” (2007), ”The Last Child” (2009), and ”Iron House” (2011).

Then Hart risked his string of successes by moving with his wife and two young children from Greensboro to Charlottesville, Virginia. Although the move disrupted his writing program temporarily, it finally led to “Redemption Road” (2016), a critical and commercial success. Quickly following is “The Hush,” being released this month, which shows that Hart is fully back on track.

The risk paid off in another important way. In Charlottesville, Hart became friends with fellow writer John Grisham, who is helping Hart launch the new book at a big fundraising event in Raleigh on Friday, Feb. 23.

“The Hush” is another big risk for Hart because it breaks two significant traditions or rules of writing that have guided his prior work.

First, until now there have been no sequels to his books. Each was independent from the others. They held together as a series only in their common geography. All took place in the real Rowan County or a fictional, but very similar, Raven County.

“The Hush,” however, is a real sequel to “The Last Child,” a book Hart declares to be his favorite of all his prior books.

“The Last Child” featured 13-year-old Johnny Merrimon, whose unrelenting search for his missing sister made him an admired but traumatized hero.

The Johnny that readers meet in “The Hush” is 10 years older, still tough and determined, but now living alone and isolated on a 6,000-acre tract of swampland, which he loves and protects from outsiders.

Hart says that “The Hush” stands on its own, but that readers of “The Last Child” will have an enhanced experience. Hart still takes the small risk faced by every sequel writer that new readers may miss some important connective links from the earlier book.

The second and greater risk that Hart takes with the new book involves the swampy land where Johnny lives. Johnny owns the 6,000 acres, but cash-wise he is broke. His title to the land is being challenged by an African-American family who lived on the land for many years and whose claim is based on a deed from 1853.

Johnny turns to his buddy Jack from “The Last Child” to help. Jack is a new lawyer in a large firm that discourages his connection to Johnny, especially when Johnny is suspected in unexplained deaths on his property.

The land has a troubling history and dangerous powers, inexplicable ones that become core features of the book and its ultimate resolution.

In a word, think “supernatural.”

All of Hart’s prior books have followed strict rules used by many mystery and thriller writers. The deaths and crimes in their books, when solved, have natural explanations and do not rely on the intervention of some spiritual or unreal power.

Hart is betting that the richness of his characters, his compelling storytelling, and the story’s supernatural landscape will hold his thriller fans despite breaking his old rules. Taking this risk, he hopes, will expand his appeal and share his storytelling talent with an even wider audience.

The complex and rich stories in “The Hush” and the book’s supernatural but satisfying conclusion suggest that he is on the right track.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.

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D.G. Martin

Contributing columnist