The Unwilling by John Hart

Today I’m finally sharing my thoughts on The Unwilling by John Hart which is out in paperback this week. I love the author’s work and was thrilled to be sent a copy by publisher Zaffre. I also treated myself to the audiobook version, so this was a combined read/listen. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy /
Owned Audiobook
Release Date: 25 March 2021
Publisher: Zaffre

About the Book


After a tour of Vietnam and a three-year stint in prison, Jason is back in town and wants to rebuild his relationship with Gibby, the younger brother he hasn’t seen 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 when the four of them encounter a prison transfer bus on a stretch of empty road, one of the women taunts the prisoners, causing a riot on the bus.

Soon after, Tyra is savagely murdered.

Given his violent history, suspicion turns first to Jason. Determined to prove his older brother’s innocence, Gibby must avoid the police and dive deep into his brother’s hidden life, a journey that takes him into the darkest corners of the community.

What he discovers 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.

Set in the American South, 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.

My Thoughts

Make no mistake. This is a very dark book, one with a very melancholic tone, and in which the violent nature of Tyra’s murder will certainly shock and maybe even upset readers. Think of some of the more extreme episodes of Dexter, or even Silence of the Lambs, and you are somewhere close to the very horrific level of torture that the victim is subjected to. And no matter how you feel about Tyra as a character, no one deserves that. We may not be present during the act itself, but the after effects, the results of her murder, are explicit in portrayal and there is absolutely no doubt about her fate.

And yet, as with all books by John Hart, this book is so much more than the depravity of the killer or killers. This is a complex story of family, of betrayal, and of war. It explores the very complicated and damaged lives of the French family. One son lost in the Vietnam war, a second who returned from the war under a very dark cloud. Only Gibby, the youngest child, has a glimmer of hope still present for his future, but with his brother Jason back on the scene, that could all be about to change. Their father is a Detective whose career is in jeopardy after Jason in implicated in Tyra’s death, but the reality is far more complex and twisted than it appears, as is Jason’s story. The more we learn throughout the course of the book, the more tragic the story becomes, and the more we can see that even those who survive can still be victims of war.

The language in this book is beautifully crafted, creating a sombre tone which is completely compelling. We are privy to those lazy afternoons in which Gibby’s future is still to be defined, where he is exploring his bravery in a bid to live up to the legacy of his older brothers, and yet not quite making the mark. The way in which his character is portrayed, with a kind of naivety about what is happening but an unending belief in his brother, is authentic and acutely observed. We are privy to his thoughts, along with those of his father and his brother Jason, allowing us to delve deeply into the complex dynamic of their lives and giving us a far more complete and rounde picture of what is happening. It serves to remove out own presumptions about guilt or innocence and certainly made me far more invested in their fates than i may have been, particularly Jason.

As ever, John Hart captures the essence of both time and place perfectly, transporting us to war time America and portraying the prejudice and fear that defined the era and the people. There are elements to the story which do push us towards the extreme, where you need to suspend disbelief, especially surrounding life in the prison and the power and influence of prisoner X. In isolation they did pull me out of the story, and seemed unnecessary, the one small chink in an otherwise brilliant observation of family, loss and the impact of war. But these distractions were few, the beauty of the prose and the quiet, emotionally charged moments between Detective French and his sons, or between Jason and Gibby, more than making up for it.

Another dark but emotional offering from an author whose prose keeps me hooked from start to finish. The audiobook is brilliantly narrated by Kevin Stillwell, bringing to life the stillness of the novel every bit as clearly as the intensity that some of the scenes create. Definitely recommended.

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 Edgar Award for Best Novel consecutively, John has also won the Barry Award, the Southern Independent

Bookseller’s Award for Fiction, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. His novels have been translated into thirty languages and can be found in more than seventy countries.

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