John Hart’s novel Redemption Road (Thomas Dunne Books, 2016) is well written, but it’s formulaic and I guessed the serial killer’s identity well before the book revealed it. The book as a whole is melodramatic. Each major character has some mysterious secret or trauma from the past, and I found myself wincing with increasing intensity as new mysterious secrets and complications were revealed. The book strives for social relevance with its emphasis on violence against women, corrupt prison wardens and law officers, and religious extremism. But its use of violence against women works both ways—there’s a prurience to this aspect that was unsettling. The pacing is off as well, which is a problem in a crime/suspense novel.
The principle character, a female detective, is (unknown to most of her colleagues) a rape victim, and the trauma of that event back in high school has disfigured her life. When she discovered she was pregnant as a result of the rape, she had an abortion, which has significant later consequences. She’s also been traumatized by the conviction and imprisonment of a police officer for a murder she’s convinced he didn’t commit. It just so happens he prevented her from committing suicide just after the rape and that ever since she has nursed a romantic attraction to him. Guess who is paroled shortly after the present-time action of this story begins? Much of the novel is driven by the main character’s desire to protect a teenage girl who herself is a rape victim. But the girl is hardly what she seems. No one is. The one character in the novel who doesn’t have a dark secret past is the prison warden. He is just a mean old bad guy.