Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Unwilling - John Hart

The Unwilling is not my first experience with a John Hart novel, and because of that, I thought I knew what to expect from Hart’s writing. But I was wrong. Hart’s novels have always been intense, character-driven thrillers about bad things happening to good people, but this one is Hart on steroids. Admittedly, that feeling of souped-up intensity is partially the result of me having experienced The Unwilling via its audiobook version. Narrator Kevin Stillwell, by altering his voice and accent to fit the book’s various characters, expertly expresses the emotion on the page, but he doesn’t make the mistake that some audiobook readers do by turning a book into more of a personal performance than the reading of someone else’s prose. That can be a fine line to walk, but Stillwell remains firmly planted on the correct side of that line here. Stillwell is not the kind of audiobook narrator who gets in the author’s way; he is the type readers can forget about while enjoying the ride. When it’s all said and done, though, you then realize just how good a job he has done.  


The central character of The Unwilling is high school senior Gibby French. Gibby, whose father is a police detective, is the youngest of three brothers. One of his brothers has already died in Vietnam, and the other one came home from the war so emotionally scarred that he earned himself a three-year prison stint. Come June, Gibby and his friends will be facing difficult decisions of their own regarding the horrible war in that faraway country. Jake, fresh out of prison, wants to reconnect with Gibby, but that’s not something his parents want for their youngest son. Jake’s mother, in fact, often refers to Gibby as her “last good son,” and she does not plan to welcome his older brother back into the family at all — end of discussion. Gibby, though, knows his own mind, and what he wants is to get to know the only brother he has left. If it has to be behind his parents’ backs, so be it. 


And then it happens.


On the way home from a day at the lake with their dates, Jake, Gibby, and the girls catch up with a bus full of prisoners being transported back to their cells. Much to Jake’s dismay, his date decides to sexually taunt the prisoners as their car passes the prison bus. When the young woman’s horribly mutilated body is found a few days later, Jake becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Then, a little later, after Gibby’s own date is kidnapped, he joins his brother on the same list of suspects. When it appears to Gibby that even his father has resigned himself to seeing Jake spend the rest of his life in prison, Gibby decides to find the real murderer himself. All he has to work with are his best friend, Chance, the bicycle he rides to school on, a few dollars in his wallet, and a whole lot of determination. Maybe even enough determination to get himself and Chance killed. 


Bottom Line: The Unwilling is an experience. Part coming-of-age novel, part family saga, part serial killer thriller, this one also includes my favorite fictional villain since Hannibal Lecter showed up on the scene in the eighties. I’m going to remember The Unwilling for a long, long time. 


John Hart

Review Copy provided by Publisher - Book Available on February 2, 2021

5 comments:

  1. I have yet to read Hart, but I must say that you just put this book on my radar. Thanks!

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    1. This is my fourth experience with Hart, but it's my favorite to this point. It's a little rough in spots because the villain and his some of his "helpers" are really weird guys. Intense is an understatement for this one.

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  2. I love the idea of the main character in this one being a high school senior, still riding his bike to school, and having to exonerate his brother. That alone makes me want to read this one. :)

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    1. Gibby's the man for sure. You have to remember that this one is taking place in the late sixties, so high school seniors were not quite as wild as the ones who followed them.

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  3. Oooh, this sounds really good and it sounds like the audiobook is excellent. I'll have to check it out if I ever finish the audiobook I'm listening to now. It's a long one and I've been listening to it very sporadically.

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