By: John Hart
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: 02/02/2021
My Rating: 5 Stars + Q&A with the Author
Top Books 2021 Set in the South at the height of the Vietnam War, The Unwilling combines crime, suspense and searing glimpses into the human mind and soul in NYT bestselling author John Hart's singular style. Gibby's older brothers have already been to war. One died there. The other came back misunderstood and hard, a decorated killer now freshly released from a three-year stint in prison. Jason won't speak of the war or of his time behind bars, but he wants a relationship with the younger brother he hasn't known for years. Determined to make that connection, he coaxes Gibby into a day at the lake: long hours of sunshine and whisky and older women.
But the day turns ugly when the four encounter a prison transfer bus on a stretch of empty road. Beautiful but drunk, one of the women taunts the prisoners, leading to a riot on the bus. The woman finds it funny in the moment, but is savagely murdered soon after.
Given his violent history, suspicion turns first to Jason; but when the second woman is kidnapped, the police suspect Gibby, too. Determined to prove Jason innocent, Gibby must avoid the cops and dive deep into his brother's hidden life, a dark world of heroin, guns and outlaw motorcycle gangs. What he discovers there is a truth more bleak than he could have imagined: not just the identity of the killer and the reasons for Tyra's murder, but the forces that shaped his brother in Vietnam, the reason he was framed, and why the most dangerous man alive wants him back in prison. This is crime fiction at its most raw, an exploration of family and the past, of prison and war and the indelible marks they leave.
View a fabulous Author Q&A
Praise for the Unwilling
"Another scorcher from Hart ... [he] keeps us engaged ... subtly folding quiet, character-driven moments into the story while still powering the narrative toward an all-stops-out ending―and a chilling coda. Remember to breathe after you turn the last page."
―Booklist (starred review)
“We the unwilling, led by the unqualified to kill the unfortunate, die for the ungrateful.” ―Unknown Soldier
“John Hart creates novels that are somehow raw, tender, brutal, and exquisite―all at the same time. Exceptional.” ―C.J. Box, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"The Unwilling is crime fiction at its absolute best. An impeccable story teller, John Hart weaves an intricate tale of family, war, prison, and murder into a thoroughly thought provoking and enjoyable read that I absolutely could not put down." —Mark Greaney, #1 New York Times bestselling author of One Minute Out
“John Hart writes about violence with frightening passion and vivid description. At the same time he masterfully lets you see inside a powerful family dynamic. His villain will be in anyone’s top 2.” —John Sandford, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Prey Series
"Richly complex, as intricately woven as a fine tapestry, soul-piercingly emotional, this is John Hart at his lyrical, atmospheric best. He builds a world and draws you in, and there you remain, a willing captive." ―Tami Hoag, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boy
THE UNWILLING is masterful!
New York Times bestselling author John Hart is one of the finest Southern storytellers out today. Once you read one of his books with richly drawn characters, you become a fan for life. He keeps getting better and better (if this is even possible)!
In this stellar, intricate, and complex tale of family, war, prison, murder, courage, sacrifice, love, and fear, Hart showcases his keen ability to explore the depths of the human capacity for resilience and trust in the face of heartbreaking betrayal and injustice. Some heroes are behind the scenes, living through horrors, where nothing is as it appears.
Who would guess after war and prison, that coming home would be one of the worst traumas?
THE UNWILLING, set in 1972 in Charlotte, NC, during significant times of change—a divided country much like today. The tensions and fear are high from desegregation, civil rights, communism, corruption, crooked leaders, gas prices, and let us not forget Watergate, and the Vietnam War, among other events. However, there were simple fun times, pre-cell phones, computers, and adventures at the quarry.
While inspired by the Mỹ Lai massacre and the Vietnam War, the powerful, explosive, and compelling story focuses on the family war back home in the South in North Carolina.
The Vietnam war had not been kind to the French family. They had buried their oldest son Robert, then watched his twin brother Jason return from the war to spiral out of control with violence, drugs, and prison. The younger son, Gibson (Gibby), was almost in his own prison, due to his overprotective obsessive mom trying to guard him against the world’s darkness. And the detective dad, Bill, always trying to smooth things over, among other things.
However, everything is not as it appears. When Jason (misunderstood) returns to get to know his younger brother, things do not go as planned. What occurs on the home front can often be as dangerous as the war.
Jason returns after a dishonorable discharge from the Marines. There was drug use, prison, and violence, and his family does not want him around his younger brother Gibby. They see Trouble with a capital "T." He is not the favorite son.
Gibby, the younger brother, a high school senior, wants to get to know his brother, and Jason wants the same. However, the mother is dead set against it and turns her back on Jason, among others in the town.
Jason's twin brother, Robert, was the family/town's hero. He was the one they all looked up to. (however, who is the real hero)? He was killed in the war. The dad, a detective, Bill, is caught in the middle, attempting to keep the situation from spiraling out of control.
There are good times at the local quarry for Gibby and his friends as they decide their future paths. Many beautiful metaphors parallel with the storyline in many ways. Some great supporting characters Becky and Chase which offer support.
When Gibby and Jason are having a fun day (letting loose) with some wild fun accompanied by two of Jason's women friends, they find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. They run into a busload of convicts from the state prison. Someone is calling the shots, and soon, Jason finds himself accused of murder. A setup. However, Jason is quiet, but you know something more sinister is going on behind the scenes. He wants to guard his younger brother.
Gibby believes in his brother's innocence. He is determined to prove it. He puts himself in harm's way, trying to help his brother. He discovers some astonishing information about his brother Jason that changes his views, and is even more determined to help his brother during his sleuthing.
One evil man is controlling the shots—a wealthy, dangerous man in prison. Prisoner X. Gibby has no clue about Prisoner X and what this powerful man wants with Jason? Will the truth come out?
Raw and emotional, THE UNWILLING, without a doubt, is John's BEST yet!
This well-crafted, compelling novel (with plenty of heart-pounding action) is a blend of crime fiction, psychological thriller, domestic, suspense, cop procedural, mystery, coming of age, Southern, historical, legal, literary fiction. It has its all. He is one of my favorite authors, having read every book and anxiously await the next.
"We the unwilling, led by the unqualified to kill the unfortunate, die for the ungrateful." —Unknown Soldier
From a master storyteller, the writing is lyrical with vivid descriptions of the time and place, drawing you in. Hart has his own unique winning signature style with strong characterization and twisty plots.
Deftly blending tension with darkness and light, good vs. evil, he makes his characters think and feel. He dives deep into their souls while experiencing conflicts (both inner and outward), and somehow there is always a lesson to be learned from the hardship and journey.
If you enjoy authors: John Grisham, Harlan Coben, Greg Hurwitz, William Kent Krueger, David Baldacci, and C.J. Box, you must read John Hart's books.
Please sign up for my Newsletter before Feb 2, pub day. A fantastic in-depth Elevator Ride Interview with John planned, where we will go behind the book—"the story behind the story," and behind this (FUN) talented author with exclusives, you do not want to miss!
I cannot wait for a follow up to REDEMPTION ROAD (another favorite) and hope we see some of the characters again in the future from THE UNWILLING. A movie or T.V. series, please.🎬
Highly recommend! "Hart delivers every time." If you haven't read his books, you better get started. Thank me later.
A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an ARC.
On a side note:
I enjoyed this one tremendously, set in my home town area in my era. (showing my age here). In 1972, I had recently graduated from high school in this same town as the book setting, newly married, and in college. We had just built our first house in NC, and my husband, a little older, was about to finish up college and planning our life and future family.
I recall the fearful day my husband’s draft number was called for Vietnam. They were taking the young men away on a bus that day, directly from the site. Fortunately, my husband was pulled from the line with a heart murmur he was unaware he had. He did not have to serve. I am forever grateful for this and my two sons, born several years later in the mid-seventies. Thank goodness my boys did not have to face these horrors or my husband.
Many were not so fortunate. This book brings back that dreaded day and feelings of the unknown. I think of all the young men who served and died for a useless war and those who will never be the same or their families. Also, the young men conflicted about the decision of the draft, fears, and peer pressure. This novel really addresses this from different angles. It’s truly a story of courage and sacrifice as well as the horrors they faced.
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About the Author
John Hart is the author of six New York Times bestsellers, THE KING OF LIES, DOWN RIVER, THE LAST CHILD, IRON HOUSE, REDEMPTION ROAD, and THE HUSH. The only author in history to win the best novel Edgar Award for consecutive novels, John has also won the Barry Award, the Southern Independent Bookseller's Award for Fiction, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, the Southern Book Prize and the North Carolina Award for Literature. His novels have been translated into thirty languages and can be found in over seventy countries. A former defense attorney and stockbroker, John lives on a farm in Virginia, where he writes full-time. Read More