Category Archives: John Hart

Review: The Unwilling by John Hart

Title: The Unwilling by John Hart
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical (’70s), Suspense
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


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 New York Times 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 disturbing 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.


Set in Charlotte, NC in 1972, The Unwilling by John Hart is a family-centric novel  that is also quite suspenseful.

Following the death of his brother Robert, Gibson “Gibby” French’s parents are over-protective and controlling. On the cusp on graduating from high school, he is torn between following in both of his older brothers’ footsteps and joining the military. However, his parents expect him to go to college.  When his other brother, Jason, returns home, Gibby is finally ready to break free of his parents’ tight grip.  

A day with Jason and two young women, Tyra and Sara, is full of carefree fun but as the brothers know all too well, life can turn on a dime.  After Tyra is brutally murdered, Jason is the chief suspect.  His detective father is forbidden to work on the case, but his best friend, Detective Ken Burklow provides him with information about the investigation. When Jason is arrested and moved to the local prison, Gibby, his new girlfriend Becky and his best friend Chance try to find evidence of his innocence. However, unbeknownst to Gibby and their father, there is much more to Tyra’s murder than meets the eye.  Will Gibby save Jason before it is too late?

After Robert’s death in Vietnam, the French family has never been the same. The boys’ mom Gabrielle is not coping well and she alienates Jason while holding onto Gibby too tightly.  Hoping to keep his wife on an even keel, William does everything he can to placate her. Gibby readily agreeds to everything his mother insisted upon, but Jason’s return highlights just how little freedom he has. Gibby is thrilled to spend time with his brother but he is frustrated by Jason’s inability to reveal anything about himself. Jason is content to allow his family to think the worst of him, but will the truth about his past finally be revealed?

Set against the backdrop of unrest, The Unwilling  is an intriguing novel with a cast of colorful characters and plenty of action. While Gibby is a vibrantly developed, three-dimensional young man, some of the other characters are under-developed. While  the first half of the story is interesting,  the storyline quickly becomes overly complicated and unrealistic. The story arc in the aftermath of Tyra’s murder is violent and extremely far-fetched.  Despite the slow pacing, John Hart brings the novel to an exciting, yet somewhat unsatisfying, conclusion.

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Filed under Historical, Historical (70s), John Hart, Rated C, Review, Suspense, The Unwilling