I found John Hart’s newest crime fiction, “The Unwilling” to be extremely dark, emotional and intense. The author's realistic view of the effects of the Vietnam war on the family was unsettling, raw and heartbreaking. The conversational writing style and complex plot immediately pulled me in and held my attention. The author’s description of the painful loss of a beloved family member, how it forever altered the dynamics of the family and the resulting consequences to their future left me feeling their pain and devastation. This story, it’s characters and everything they had lost stayed with me long after reading this story. This was definitely a very intriguing, multilayered thriller.
This story takes place in 1972 and begins with William French, a detective with the Charlotte Police Department, being informed that his son Jason has returned to town after recently being released from prison. Jason did three tours in Vietnam and came home a broken and scarred man who then turned to violence and drugs which ultimately led to prison. William’s oldest son Robert died in Vietnam. His wife, Gabrielle, was destroyed when her oldest and “favorite son” died, wishing it would have been Jason instead. She shuns Jason and believes that he is a danger to their youngest son Gibby. Her only concern is to keep Gibby safe.
Gibby is a senior in high school and is about to graduate. Since Robert’s death he has been sheltered by his overprotective mother and hasn’t been allowed to date, go camping, hunting or participate in sports. He’s angry and resents being kept away from his brother Jason. He welcomes Jason’s attention and wants to spend time with him. This sets the stage for this coming of age story where Gibby learns that the world is not as it seems as he is quickly pulled into the criminal world of danger, corruption and revenge.
When William first confronts Jason he is informed that Gibby has agreed to hangout with his older brother. Jason is angry, distant and resentful of what his parents have done to his little brother Gibby. He’s determined to spend time with Gibby and do “brotherly things” despite his parents' determination to keep them apart. William feels that he no longer knows his son Jason. He’s a father who loves his son despite how he has changed, what he had to become or what he has done. He wishes he could tell Jason how he really feels but seeing how angry Jason is he chooses to walk away, fearful that he will lose all three of his sons. Will Jason lure Gibby into trouble? Can William save his sons from danger? Will he be able to save what’s left of his family?
The Unwilling is a powerful novel that deals with the devastating effects of the Vietnam war on family. It centers around William French’s dysfunctional family, their loss and struggle to move forward. I enjoyed the multiple points of views, the exceptionally well developed characters, the intricate storyline and unique themes. This is a very dark story with many violent and graphic scenes. Personally, I found some of these scenes intense, unnecessarily brutal and stressful. However, I enjoyed learning more about Jason, his role in the war and why his nemesis, a serial killer on death row, wants him back in prison to exact his revenge. This was my first book by John Hart and I found his newest crime fiction thriller to be truly exceptional with a well written story line and riveting suspense. I look forward to reading many more of his books in the future.