There’s something about Johnny Merrimon in John Hart’s The Hush that sets people on edge. Perhaps it’s his history, the murder of his sister, the terrible deaths that happened ten years ago in John Hart’s The Last Child. Or, maybe it’s because he lives a hermetic life in Hush Arbor, the mysterious swampland outside town that many people swear is haunted. Even his best friend Jack Cross thinks there is something weird about Hush Arbor and maybe even about Johnny.
Meanwhile, Johnny is trying to save Hush Arbor. It had belonged to his family before the Civil War, but his great-grandfather had given the land to the slaves he had freed. It reverted to Johnny when there were no more male heirs. The female heirs were suing and he could lose the land, land he felt bound to in more than just heritage.
In addition, William Boyd, a billionaire is trying to buy the land. He also feels a familiar connection as his grandfather hunted there and made a discovery that motivates Boyd who uses his wealth to keep local lawyers from representing Johnny. When Boyd turns up dead, Johnny is a natural suspect and the local sheriff would love to pin it on him. He is certain that Johnny is damaged by his past and dangerous and the Sheriff won’t let anything like the law get in his way.
But there’s another actor in this drama, the unseen forces of history, of the long ago past, haunting their descendants, not just Johnny, but the women suing for the land. There is a compulsion bringing them all to a terrifying confrontation.
John Hart is a good writer, even a great one. After all, I just read the kind of book I never read. When I saw Edgar winner, I made a false assumption about the kind of book this was, and somehow found myself reading what I would classify as a horror story, as weird fiction, rather than mystery, though it’s steeped in mystery.
I don’t like horror stories, not the really scary ones. Sure, I love campy horror like Dresden or iZombie, but real horror gives me the creeps, probably a remnant of my Baptist upbringing that prohibited reading supernatural stories because they opened the door to demons. Not that I believe in the supernatural, but it’s still creepy. Something about authors dreaming this stuff up creeps me out. Needless to say, this book is scary. The mix of suspense, the supernatural, and the bloody history of racism in the South make it a perfect exemplar of Southern Gothic horror.
The Hush has a tremendous sense of place. Hart puts you right in that otherworldy swamp. In fact, he puts you in that swamp too well. It’s why I had to keep putting this book down. I found it too spooky and gruesome. Hart makes you care about the people, too. I had to know what happened, I cared about Johnny and Jack. I cared about Cree, Luana, and Leon. He made me care what happened which made me keep reading this book that creeped me out.
The Hush is truly weird, and by weird, I mean in the sense that Lovecraft described, “the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which forever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasize the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of nature-defying illusions.”
So if you like scary books, if you like horror and weird fiction, you will love The Hush. I don’t and yet I kept reading and have to confess I liked this book even if I could only read it in small doses because it’s so dang creepy.
I received a copy of The Hush from the publisher through NetGalley.