‘The Unwilling’ by John Hart

This is probably the most powerful crime novel I’ve read in years, but I’ll tell you now, it’s not for the squeamish. Many of the characters in this novel have no souls or are flawed in some fundamental way the is broken beyond mending. Gibson French, the son of a police detective and an overprotective mother lost his older brothers to the Vietnam war, one to death, the other–Jason–to horrors that changed him into an unknowable man.

Jason comes home after serving time in prison and wants to get to know Gibson (Gibby). They drink beer, they meet women, they talk. Innocent, enough, right, until a young woman dies in a horrific fashion and Jason is the presumed killer. Detective French doesn’t want Gibby to be influenced by Jason, much less drawn into probable crimes and the wrong crowd.

All of Hart’s novels are memorable. No doubt, the family dynamics made The Unwilling difficult to write. This novel is, perhaps, his best, though I think it was more gritty than it needed to be. But, given the characters, perhaps not. I am happy with the ending, though the characters and the novel’s readers go through hell to get there.

Around the edges of the plot, we have Vietnam’s My Lai massacre and the prospect that it wasn’t the only war crime that happened during the war. Jason knows but hasn’t been willing to speak of it.

Gibby comes of age–in spades, one might say–and, the wonder of this novel is that he survives the process. In fact, perhaps his parents also survive the process. These are strong characters, a twisted plot, and issues that will stick with the reader long after the last page of the novel is reached. That’s what makes good fiction.

Malcolm