‘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

John Hart delays release of new novel ‘The Unwilling’

John Hart announced on Facebook yesterday that The Unwilling, originally scheduled for release in this June, will be delayed until February of next year. Many fans, including me, are disappointed by this news since we had been looking forward to some wonderful summer reading material.

Unlike many of us who promote our books primarily online with an occasional bricks-and-mortar reading and signing, Hart schedules a book tour for each of his books. The pandemic makes tours impossible now.

Calling the planned book tour for The Unwilling collateral damage to coronavirus, he said, “This was not an easy decision for any of us, but book tour is a huge part of my life – that includes meeting fans and booksellers, raising funds for important charities and doing what I can to support all of the stores that writers and readers value so highly (talk about an essential business!). It is also a necessary part of my life. Writing novels is such a lonesome, isolating affair that I have long considered tour as a needed reinsertion into the human race, a once-in-a-while reminder that life exists beyond the farm and keyboard, the family and close friends.”

His novels are so intense, I can understand his need to get out into the real world every time one is finished and ready for release. We’ll be waiting, Mr. Hart.

Malcolm