The Unwilling

Written by John Hart
Review by G. J. Berger

After three Vietnam tours and two years in a jail for serious offenders, burned-out Jason French comes home to Charlotte, North Carolina. Jason’s older brother died in Vietnam, and their genteel mother has never stopped mourning. Their father is a homicide cop trying to hold his family together. Jason’s younger brother, Gibby, about to finish high school, is stuck in the middle.

Jason invites Gibby out for a Saturday drive. Jason promises to meet up with women, drink a bit, and reconnect. On an empty backcountry road, the brothers and two women catch up with a prison bus heading to jail. Riding along next to the bus in their convertible, one of the women teases the prisoners. Days after, she is sadistically murdered. Incriminating evidence shows up in Jason’s rented room. He is arrested and sent back to the same jail.

The woman’s murder and Jason’s setup were orchestrated by a death-row inmate named Mr. X. Psychopath Mr. X uses brutality and his inherited wealth to control the warden and the guards. He hires lawyers and mercenaries on the outside to extend his power beyond the prison walls.

Hart delivers for readers of no-holds-barred thrillers. His principal characters are larger than life. Jason, a war hero, has fighting skills that would put Chuck Norris to shame. Gibby is a clever old soul in an 18-year-old body. Their father is one hard cop. Their mother’s grief is over the top. The evil men Mr. X has hired rival Jeffrey Dahmer for cruelty. The story is powerfully told with tension-filled setups and interesting, though sometimes improbable, twists. Readers may be frustrated that the ending leaves major loose ends unresolved. Perhaps Hart is working on a sequel?