The Unwilling

Mysterious Book Report No. 435

by John Dwaine McKenna

John Hart is the absolute master of Southern Gothic or Appalachian Noir—whatever name it’s given—and is the single best practitioner of the genre working in America today.

In his newest, and just released novel, The Unwilling, (St. Martin’s Press, $27.99, 384 pages, ISBN 978-1-250-16772-9), he takes an introspective and deeply personal look at the effect of the Viet Nam War on a patriotic Southern Family through the eyes of an eighteen year old named Gibby French.  He’s the youngest of three brothers, born to Bill and Gabriel French.  Bill’s a detective on the Charlotte, N.C. Police Force and Gabriel is a stay-at-home mom who’s suffering from depression due to the loss of her oldest—and most favored—son Robert, who was drafted and died in Viet Nam.  His twin Jason, and the most problematic of the three boys, volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps and served four tours in S.E. Asia . . . where he was responsible for many killings, some of which were done under questionable circumstances.  He came home addicted to heroin and went to prison for drug-related crimes.

Now, as the novel begins, Jason’s out of prison and back in his hometown of Charlotte, where—to his father’s consternation and his overprotective mother’s horror—Jason is working to reestablish his relationship with Gibby.

But just as the two are beginning to reconnect, a woman Jason was involved with is savagely murdered, and given his history and all the available clues, Jason appears to be the killer.  Is he?  Gibby doesn’t think so, and sets out to prove it, even as his budding romance that’s just beginning to flower is put at risk . . . or even loss of life . . . as the real killer (which the reader’s been made aware of) continues with his warped plan.

This is after all a Southern Gothic novel, and John Hart is the master of it.  Read Unwilling for yourself and make your own decision.  See how he’s able to bend the genre with an evil so great that the yarn—almost—but not quite—devolves into the paranormal.  And all the while, the real horror, the Viet Nam War, lies in the background like the nasty surprise skeleton in the closet that it was then and is now.  John Hart gets better with each book!


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