Recommended Reading: John Hart’s “Redemption Road”

Redemption Road

Leaving work for the doctor’s office, I realized that the scant pages I had left in two different books would not see me through the wait.  I needed a third, and I needed it to be something that wouldn’t suck (I was already carrying two books I planned on finishing in public; was I supposed to bring two more, one tester and one backup in case the tester failed? *).  The book that didn’t suck turned out to be John Hart’s Redemption Road.

The Advanced Readers Copy had a clever marketing wrap around it, just effusive quotes from mystery authors on the back and this on the front:

Over 2 million copies of his books in print.

The only author ever to win back-to-back Edgars for Best Novel.

Every book a New York Times bestseller.

Now after five years, John Hart is back.

Okay, fine; I’ll give John Hart a day in court.

Redemption Road started with a kidnapped girl, and that’s where the trouble starts – trying to write a glowing recommendation for a book I enjoyed tremendously while judging it for its subject matter.

Redemption Road is a powerful thriller that does its job perfectly.  The plot pulls you forward, its characters hook you in, and everything else in the world falls away because you can’t put it down until you find out what happens next.  When you’re done, all you can do is sit back and breath an appreciative, “wow.”  If you want solid entertainment, then get ye to a bookstore on May 3rd (or pre-order online if you’re into that kind of thing, you sicko) and buy Redemption Road.  You will love it.  And when the next ten people ask, “What should I read next?” then you will have your answer ready.

For me, an unsettling feeling crept in once I finished Redemption Road.  It’s the same feeling I get when I’ve binge-watched American Horror Story for the third time when I should be writing or editing.  It was entertaining and enjoyable, but I can’t shake the feeling that I could have done something more constructive.

In this case, I could have read something more constructive.

Everyone knows that Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl captured the cultural conversation and turned the girl-in-jeopardy thriller on its ear, but let’s talk about a book that came out a few years before.  Cara Hoffman’s So Much Pretty  sucked the prurient interest from the Disposable Woman Trope and infused it with much-needed horror and pain.  So Much Pretty goes beyond playing with the woman-as-victim idea, the unreliable female narrator that Gone Girl has made popular, and questions why there is such a trope in the first place.  Why do we need women to be victimized in popular fiction?

Redemption Road thinks it has something to say about the role race plays in police shootings, or about the media’s role in miscarriages of justice, but all those details do is serve to make the plot more believable and compelling.  John Hart uses these colors to render his thriller more vividly; Cara Hoffman asks why we’ve been given this particular set of paints.

And yes, I’m comparing apples to oranges – talking about police shootings and circus trials in Redemption Road and a kidnapped girl in So Much Pretty – but I think you get my point.  Hoffman’s book takes a big picture view that ultimately moves the cultural conversation forward (which is why it’s shelved in general fiction rather than genre fiction, I suppose).

Maybe my expectations are way off, here.  John Hart is a thriller writer and he’s written a thrilling book.  It entertained me, and I enjoyed every page.  Maybe it’s a guy thing.  Do women question their feminist credentials every time they pick up a kidnapped girl thriller?

Anyway, John Hart is damned good.  I’ll probably end up reading his earlier books.

And feeling appropriately guilty afterwards.

*Idea: those canvas tote bags that they have for four-packs of wine – we need one for books**
**Realization: we have that already; it’s called a tote bag.  And if you can’t fit four books in your tote, then you’re gonna need a bigger tote.

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