Now a New York Times Bestseller
Over 2 million copies of his books in print. The first and only author to win back-to-back Edgars for Best Novel. Every book a New York Times bestseller.
Since his debut bestseller, The King of Lies, reviewers across the country have heaped praise on John Hart. Each novel has taken Hart higher on the New York Times Bestseller list as his masterful writing and assured evocation of place have won readers around the world and earned history's only consecutive Edgar Awards for Best Novel with Down River and The Last Child. Now, Hart delivers his most powerful story yet.
A boy with a gun waits for the man who killed his mother.
A troubled detective confronts her past in the aftermath of a brutal shooting.
After thirteen years in prison, a good cop walks free as deep in the forest, on the altar of an abandoned church, a body cools in pale linen…
This is a town on the brink.
This is Redemption Road.
Brimming with tension, secrets, and betrayal, Redemption Road proves again that John Hart is a master of the literary thriller.
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Read an Excerpt
By John Hart
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 John Hart
All rights reserved.
Gideon Strange opened his eyes to dark and heat and the sound of his father weeping. He held very still, though the sobbing was neither new nor unexpected. His father often ended up in the corner — huddled as if his son's bedroom were the world's last good place — and Gideon thought about asking why, after all these years, his father was still so sad and weak and broken. It would be a simple question, and if his father were any kind of man, he'd probably answer it. But Gideon knew what his father would say and so kept his head on the pillow and watched the dark corner until his father pulled himself up and crossed the room. For long minutes he stood silently, looking down; then he touched Gideon's hair and tried to whisper himself strong, saying, Please, God, please, then asking strength from his long-dead wife, so that Please, God turned into Help me, Julia.
Gideon thought it was pitiful, the helplessness and tears, the shaking, dirty fingers. Holding still was the hardest part, not because his mother was dead and had no answer, but because Gideon knew that if he moved at all, his father might ask if he was awake or sad or equally lost. Then Gideon would have to tell the truth, not that he was any of those things, but that he was more lonesome inside than any boy his age should be. But his father didn't speak again. He ran fingers through his son's hair and stood perfectly still as if whatever strength he sought might magically find him. Gideon knew that would never happen. He'd seen pictures of his father before and had a few dim memories of a man who laughed and smiled and didn't drink most every hour of every day. For years he'd thought that man might return, that it could still happen. But Gideon's father wore his days like a faded suit, an empty man whose only passion rose from thoughts of his long-dead wife. He seemed alive enough then, but what use were flickers or hints?
The man touched his son's hair a final time, then crossed the room and pulled the door shut. Gideon waited a minute before rolling out of bed, fully dressed. He was running on caffeine and adrenaline, trying hard to remember the last time he'd slept or dreamed or thought of anything else besides what it would take to kill a man.
Swallowing hard, he cracked the door, trying to ignore that his arms were skinny-white and his heart was running fast as a rabbit's. He told himself that fourteen years was man enough, and that he didn't need to be any older to pull a trigger. God wanted boys to become men, after all, and Gideon was only doing what his father would do if his father were man enough to do it. That meant killing and dying were part of God's plan, too, and Gideon said as much in the dark of his mind, trying hard to convince the parts of him that shook and sweated and wanted to throw up.
Thirteen years had passed since his mother's murder, then three weeks since Gideon had found his father's small, black gun, and ten more days since he'd figured out a 2:00 a.m. train would carry him to the gray, square prison on the far side of the county. Gideon knew kids who'd hopped trains before. The key, they said, was to run fast and not think on how sharp and heavy those big, shiny wheels truly were. But Gideon worried he'd jump and miss and go under. He had nightmares about it every night, a flash of light and dark, then pain so true he woke with an ache in the bones of his legs. It was an awful image, even awake, so he pushed it down and cracked the door wide enough to see his father slumped in an old brown chair, a pillow squeezed to his chest as he stared at the broken television where Gideon had hidden the gun after he stole it from his father's dresser drawer two nights ago. He realized now that he should have kept the gun in his room, but there was no better hiding place, he'd thought, than the dried-out guts of a busted-up television that hadn't worked since he was five.
But how to get to the gun when his father sat right in front of it?
Gideon should have done it differently, but his thoughts ran crooked sometimes. He didn't mean to be difficult. It just worked out that way, so that even the kind teachers suggested he think more about woodshop and metalworking than about the fancy words in all those great, heavy books. Standing in the dark, he thought maybe those teachers were right, after all, because without the gun he couldn't shoot or protect himself or show God he had the will to do necessary things.
After a minute, he closed the door, thinking, Two o'clock train ...
But the clock already said 1:21.
* * *
Checking the door again, he watched a bottle go up and down until his father slumped and the bottle slipped from his fingers. Gideon waited five more minutes, then crept to the living room and stepped over engine parts and other bottles, tripping once as a car rumbled past and splashed light through a gap in the curtains. When it was dark again, he knelt behind the television, slipped off the back, and pulled out a gun that was black and slick and heavier than he remembered. He cracked the cylinder, checked the bullets.
It was the small voice, the small man. Gideon stood and saw that his father was awake — a man-shaped hole in a stretch of stained upholstery. He seemed uncertain and afraid, and for a moment Gideon wanted to go back under the sheets. He could call everything off; pretend none of this had ever happened. It would be nice, he thought, not to kill a man. He could put the gun down and go back to bed. But he saw the halo of flowers in his father's hands. They were dry and brittle now, but his mother, on her wedding day, had worn them like a crown in her hair. He looked at them, again — baby's breath and white roses, all of it pale and brittle — then imagined how the room would look if a stranger were looking down from above: the man with dead flowers, the boy with the gun. Gideon wanted to explain the power of that image — to make his father understand that the boy had to do what the father would not. Instead he turned and ran. He heard his name again, but was already through the door, half falling as he leapt off the porch and hit the ground running, the gun warm now in his hand, the impact from hard concrete slamming up his shins as he ran half a block, then ducked through an old man's yard and into thick woods that ran east with the creek, then up a big hill to where chain-link sagged and factories were rusted shut.
He fell against the fence as his father, far behind him, called his name over and over, his voice so loud it broke and cracked and finally failed. For a second, Gideon hesitated, but when a train whistled in the west, he pushed the gun under the fence and scrambled over the top, tearing skin as he did and banging both knees when he landed wrong in the overgrown parking lot on the other side.
The train's whistle blew louder.
He didn't have to do it.
No one had to die.
But that was the fear talking. His mother was dead, and her killer needed to pay. So he aimed for a gap between the burned-out furniture plant and the place that used to make thread but now had one whole side falling in. It was darker between the buildings, but even with loose bricks under his feet Gideon made it, without falling, to a hole in the fence near the big white oak in the far corner. There was light from a streetlamp and from a few low stars, but it disappeared as he belly-slid under the wire and plunged into a gully on the far side. The dirt was dry and loose going down. He slipped — scrabbling to keep the gun from falling out in the blackness — then splashed through a trickle of water and clambered up the other side to stand breathless in an alley of scrub that spread out from metal tracks that looked white against the dirt.
He bent at the waist, cramping; but the train rounded a bend and blasted light up the hill.
It would have to slow, he thought.
But it didn't.
It hit the hill like the hill was nothing. Three engines and a wall of metal, it blew past as if it could strip the air from his lungs. But more cars came onto the hill every second, and Gideon had a sense of it in the dark, of fifty cars and then another hundred, their weight dragging at the engines until he realized the train had slowed so much he could almost keep up. And that's what he tried to do, running fast as the wheels sparked yellow and built a vacuum that sucked at the bones of his legs. He scrabbled at one car and then another, but the rungs were high and slick.
He risked a glance and saw the last cars racing up behind him, twenty maybe, and then less. If he missed the train, he missed the prison. His fingers stretched, but he fell and smeared skin from his face, then ran and reached and felt a rung in his hand as agony burst in his shoulder and his feet thumped across wooden ties before the car, at last, was a shell around him.
He'd made it. He was on the train that would carry him off to kill a man, and the truth of that pressed down in the dark. It wasn't talk anymore, or waiting or planning.
The sun would rise in four hours.
The bullets would be real bullets.
But so what?
He sat in the blackness, determined as hilltops rose and fell and houses between them looked like stars. He thought of sleepless nights and hunger; and when the river glinted beneath him, he looked for the prison, seeing a bright light miles out across the valley floor. It raced closer, so he leaned out when the ground seemed flattest and least rocky. He looked for the strength to jump, but was still on the train as dirt flicked past and the prison sank like a ship in the dark. He was going to miss it, so he thought of his mother's face instead, then stepped out and fell and hit the ground like a sack of rocks.
When he woke, it was still dark, and though the stars looked dimmer, he had enough light to limp along the tracks until he found a road that led to a cluster of brown buildings he'd seen once from the back of a moving car. He stepped beneath a black-lettered sign that said CONVICTS WELCOME and studied the two-windowed, cinder-block bar on the other side of it. His face was a blur in the glass. There were no people or traffic, and when he turned to look south, he saw how the prison rose up in the distance. He looked at it for long minutes before slipping into the alley beside the bar and putting his back against a Dumpster that smelled like chicken wings and cigarettes and piss. He wanted to feel pleased for making it this far, but the gun looked wrong in his lap. He tried watching the road, but there was nothing to watch, so he closed his eyes and thought of a picnic they'd had when he was very young. The picture taken that day was in a frame on his bedside table at home. He'd worn yellow pants with big buttons and thought he might remember how his father held him high and spun him in a circle. He held on to the idea of that childhood, then imagined what it would feel like to kill the man who took it away.
Arm straight and steady.
He practiced in his head so he could do it right in person; but even in his mind, the gun shook and was silent. Gideon had imagined the same thing a thousand times on a thousand nights.
His father was not man enough.
He would not be man enough.
Pressing the barrel against his forehead, he prayed for strength, then walked through it again.
For an hour more he tried to steel himself, then threw up in the dark and hugged his ribs as if all heat in the world had been stolen, too.CHAPTER 2
Elizabeth should sleep — she knew as much — but the fatigue was more than physical. The weariness came from dead men and the questions that followed, from thirteen years of cop that looked to end badly. She played the movie in her mind: the missing girl and the basement, the bloody wire, and the pop, pop of the first two rounds. She could explain two, maybe even six; but eighteen bullets in two bodies was a tough sell, even with the girl alive. Four days had passed since the shooting, and the life that followed still felt foreign. Yesterday, a family of four stopped her on the sidewalk to thank her for making the world a better place. An hour later, somebody spit on the sleeve of her favorite jacket.
Elizabeth lit a cigarette, thinking about how it all came down to where people stood. To those who had children, she was a hero. A girl was taken and bad men died. To a lot of people, that seemed about right. For those who distrusted the police on principle, Elizabeth was the proof of all that was wrong with authority. Two men died in a violent, brutal manner. Forget that they were pushers and kidnappers and rapists. They'd died with eighteen bullets in them, and that, for some, was inexcusable. They used words such as torture and execution and police brutality. Elizabeth had strong feelings on the matter, but mostly she was just tired. How many days now with no real sleep? How many nightmares when it finally happened? Even though the city was unchanged and the same people inhabited her life, it seemed harder each hour to hold on to the person she'd been. Today was a perfect example. She'd been in the car for seven hours, driving aimlessly across town and into the county, past the police station and her house, out beyond the prison and back. But, what else could she do?
Home was a vacuum.
She couldn't go to work.
Pulling into a dark lot on the dangerous edge of downtown, she turned off the engine and listened to the sounds the city made. Music thumped from a club two blocks away. A fan belt squealed at the corner. Somewhere, there was laughter. After four years in uniform and nine with the gold shield, she knew every nuance of every rhythm. The city was her life, and for a long time she'd loved it. Now it felt ... what?
Was wrong the right word? That seemed too harsh.
She got out of the car and stood in the darkness as a distant streetlight flickered twice, then snapped and died. She made a slow turn, picturing every back alley and crooked street in a ten-block radius. She knew the crack houses and flophouses, the prostitutes and pushers, which street corners were likely to get you shot if you said the wrong thing or rolled up hot. Seven different people had been killed on this busted-up patch of broken city, and that was just in the past three years.
She'd been in darker places a thousand times, but it felt different without the badge. The moral authority mattered, as did the sense of belonging to something larger than oneself. It wasn't fear, but nakedness might be a decent word. Elizabeth didn't have boyfriends or lady friends or hobbies. She was a cop. She liked the fight and the chase, the rare, sweet times she helped people who actually meant well. What would remain if she lost it?
Channing, she told herself.
Channing would remain.
That a girl she barely knew could matter so much was strange. But, she did. When Elizabeth felt dark or lost, she thought of the girl. Same thing when the world pressed in, or when Elizabeth considered the real chance that she could go to prison for what had happened in that cold, damp hole of a basement. Channing was alive, and as damaged as she was, she still had a chance at a full and normal life. A lot of victims couldn't say that. Hell, Elizabeth knew cops that couldn't say it, either.
Grinding out the cigarette, Elizabeth bought a newspaper from a machine beside an empty diner. Back in the car, she spread the paper across the wheel and saw her own face staring back. She looked cold and distant in black and white, but it could be the headline that made her seem so remote.
"Hero Cop or Angel of Death?"
Two paragraphs in, it was pretty clear what the reporter thought. Even though the word alleged showed up more than once, so did phrases such as inexplicable brutality, unwarranted use of force, died in excruciating pain. After long years of positive press, the local paper, it seemed, had finally turned against her. Not that she could blame them, not with the protests and public outcry, not with the state police involved. The photograph they'd chosen told the tale. Standing on the courthouse steps and peering down, she looked cold and aloof. It was the high cheekbones and deep eyes, the fair skin that looked gray in newsprint.
"Angel of death. Jesus."
Excerpted from Redemption Road by John Hart. Copyright © 2016 John Hart. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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