Review by: Mark Palm
There are times when I read a book I don’t really think much about the title, unless it’s spectacularly good, or spectacularly bad. I’m sure that there are plenty of cases of good books not reaching the right audience because of a bad title, and one wonders what might have come of say, The Great Gatsby if it had been saddled with some of it’s awful working titles like Trimalchio in West Egg, or The High-Bouncing Lover.
I bring this up because as far as titles go Redemption Road doesn’t seem particularly bad or good, until you get to the end of the book. Then I realized that John Hart not only knows how to bestow a good, apt title, but he has given us an exceptional novel as well.
North Carolina Detective Elizabeth Black is under investigation for the shooting deaths of two men who kidnapped eighteen-year old Canning Shore, held her hostage and raped her. All police shootings are investigated, but Elizabeth is white, the two men were black and she fired eighteen rounds, which leaves the public, and her own department unsure of whether she is a hero or a killer, especially since Elizabeth will only speak of the barest details, even to her partner, Detective Charlie Beckett.
To make things even more complicated for Elizabeth, ex-cop Adrian Wall is released from prison after serving thirteen years for the murder of Julia Strange, a married woman with whom he was having an affair. Despite overwhelming forensic evidence, Elizabeth believes Wall’s claim that he was innocent. As a young officer Elizabeth discovered Julia’s body, and formed a strong relationship with Julia’s son, Gideon Strange, now thirteen, helping to raise him as his father fell into a drunken stupor. The day that Wall, who suffered horrifically in prison is released, Gideon is shot while attempting to seek revenge upon Wall. Then a young woman’s body is found in the same place that Julia’s was years earlier, casting more doubt upon Wall. This is not quite as bad as it seems for Elizabeth, however, because Mr. Hart has earlier given us some passages, in a mysterious first-person narration, that point to someone else being the killer. Elizabeth also forms a similar relationship with Channing, but one that grows far more complex and nuanced as the story unfolds.
Now if this seems like a complex plot with a lot of twists and turns, it is, and I have only given you the beginning, but Mr. Hart grounds his story by making the relationships between the character the heart of the matter. Each and every character is well thought out and believable, particularly Elizabeth, who is so real that you can reach out and touch her.
As the rest of the novel plays out the plot and the relationships between these characters keeps growing more and more taut and tense, yet Mr. Hart never stoops to sensationalism, even as he pushes the boundaries of his plot to the breaking point.
Redemption Road is not for the faint of heart; this is a story that is often brutal and heart-breaking, and Mr. Hart does not stint or turn away from the ugly realities of the material, but as the title suggests, if the reader hangs in there, and pays close attention, this is a novel this is ultimately about, who would have guessed, redemption.