Book review: ‘Nathan’s Run’ by John Gilstrap


I took my own advice and ordered a John Gilstrap book from Winding Rivers. “Nathan’s Run” is the book that identified Gilstrap as a writer people wanted to read.

Nathan Bailey was 12 years old. He was in serious trouble and trying to escape. There wasn’t going to be any sympathy for him or any way out; he had to get to Canada.

Nathan had been in the juvenile detention center (JDC) for automobile theft. He had been sentenced to a year at the behest of an uncle whose truck he had taken to escape the treatment received from the drunken relative. “A year in jail never hurt anyone.”

When Nathan was 10 years old, his father had been killed in an automobile accident. Since Nathan no longer had a mother, he was placed with an uncle who clearly didn’t want him. The uncle made that known to the boy in every way possible. Thus, the escape attempt and JDC.

Upon arrival at JDC, Nathan had been gang raped with a broom handle the first night and he learned that the guards (childcare supervisors) were less than sympathetic. Some months later, guard Ricky Harris had grabbed Nathan, taken him into the single-cell crisis center and forced him to take off his shoes and socks. Later in the evening, Ricky reappeared in the cell, drunk. He asked Nathan if he knew about cleaning a fish, threatening him with a knife.

Through some experience in dealing with a drunk, Nathan was able to fight off the attack. In the battle that ensued, the knife ended up in Ricky’s abdomen. Nathan fled JDC as a cop killer.

While a drenching rain covered his trail, it also meant he needed to find shelter. Fortunately for him, he figured out that accumulated papers in a driveway meant an empty house, residents on vacation. It was here that he was able to ditch his bloody clothes and it was here that he first made contact with “the Bitch” on the radio. She had already expressed her contempt with a cop killer, regardless of age. But it was good radio to let 12-year-old Nathan talk and his explanation gave a different perspective. Why would the guard want to kill the boy, though? Nathan’s story.

At the time that this is going on, we learn of other aspects of the story. It is not only the guard who wants Nathan dead, but also there is also his uncle and his uncle’s creditors. Also, some of the police are humanized as we learn their stories.

“Nathan’s Run” is a thriller. It is a mystery in the sense that the reader is not going to know how it will end. It is not a “who done it,” but there is more than one murder.

“Nathan’s Run” is the book that launched John Gilstrap’s career and it is available from the Winding Rivers Library System as well as wherever you purchase your books.

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