A year ago, twelve year old Alyssa Merrimon disappeared, seen being pulled in to a van by Jack Cross, the son of a local policeman. Alyssa’s father, feeling responsible for the disappearance because he was late picking her up, runs off shortly afterward. Alyssa’s mother, unable to cope with the disappearance of her daughter and the subsequent abandonment by her husband, turns inward, relying on booze and pills to get her through the day, making her very easy prey for a manipulative and abusive former boyfriend. And Alyssa’s twin brother Johnny is left to desperately hold the pieces of his family together and bring his sister home.
Convinced that Alyssa is still alive, Johnny scours the county for her, stalking the registered sex offenders, determined to find her. Running parallel to Johnny is Detective Clyde Hunt, the lead detective on Alyssa’s case. Johnny’s gotten under Hyde’s skin – the whole family has, really – but he’s no closer to finding Alyssa than Johnny is.
Then, on the anniversary of Alyssa’s kidnapping, another girl goes missing, and Johnny’s actions set off a chain of events that will change countless lives.
I can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed this book, and more than that, how well-crafted it was. Mystery novels are often described as “chilling” or “gripping” or “shocking” or having “edge of your seat drama”. All of those phrases seem trite, but they are absolutely accurate in regard to The Last Child. Johnny’s story grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go, and as the novel wore on, the faster I read it, both frantic to get to the next page and reluctant to reach the end. It’s extraordinarily rare to find a mystery novel that keeps the reader guessing until the very end, and even more so to find one that so skillfully introduces a B story that surprises the reader as well. Hunt’s characters are well drawn, and Johnny – described by one reviewer as “an amalgam of Opie Taylor and Scout Finch with a hint of Huck Finn” (Raleigh News & Observer) – is a boy who will stay with me for a long time to come. This is easily one of my favorite books of the year.