Evil deeds from the past haunt the present in a darkly bewitched Southern swamp.
Hart’s ambitious, uneven, but ultimately provocative thriller initially seems set up along conventional narrative lines. In particular, the tale’s opening events suggest a legal thriller centered on two characters, Johnny Merrimon and Jack Cross, returning from the author’s earlier book The Last Child (2009). Now 23, Johnny faces losing the Hush, the 6,000 acre, half swamp, half dry land expanse in Raven County, North Carolina, that he’d inherited five years ago. Cree Freemantle, a young woman whose ancestors lived on the parcel for hundreds of years, is challenging his right to the property. The impecunious Johnny, who lives on his land, needs legal help he can’t afford. His old friend Jack, who works at a law firm, tries but fails to arrange pro bono counsel. Wealthy William Boyd, who’s offered Johnny $30 million for the land, wants Jack’s firm to help him persuade Johnny to sell, offering them a lucrative deal to handle any work on the lawsuit over the land's ownership. But then Boyd is the victim of a gruesome, mysterious death in the Hush, and Johnny becomes a suspect in the case. Hart now goes after more than a story of pursuit. From the outset, his characters express a sense that the Hush is a strange place occupied by unseen, perhaps even ghostly forces. Alas, the many references to secrets and strange occurrences in the place may tire more than they intrigue the reader, who will readily agree when, near the end, a character muses that "There is no normal in the Hush. There is only story and magic." Hart links the magic of the place to fact, flashing back to vividly written depictions of the arrival of slaves in the Colonies. At the expense of characterization—Johnny, in particular, never emerges as a fully drawn protagonist, and secondary characters verge on stereotypes—Hart vigorously renders this tragic history and its aftermath as a nightmare of violent, supernatural forces.
After spinning its wheels in its first half, Hart’s novel becomes a chilling tale that’s hard to shake.