• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Unwilling by John Hart

Hart reliably offers character-driven mysteries with heartbreaking interpersonal complications. The twists and turns here are excellent, with interestingly layered motivations and compromises.

The Unwilling is John Hart's newest book, published last week. Hart's books reliably offer deftly crafted, often stark landscapes, character-driven stories, heartbreaking situations and compromises, and enough protagonists' strength and grit to stick with you.


The Unwilling offers all of those elements and more, unraveling the workings of a family in the South during the Vietnam War, including brothers at odds; as well as complex issues regarding corruption, prison, war, money, power, and violence; and a brother's unfailing loyalty in the face of terrible conflict and danger.


Hart tells a captivating story of broken boys and men, battered by experiences of wartime brutality or frozen by the fear of their potential involvement in battle; the destruction of drugs and other desperate attempts to forget; limited choices and bad decisions; deeply felt loss; and crushing familial and societal expectations.


There are intensely grisly elements here--deeply upsetting, excruciating torture and willful cruelty; a shockingly corrupt prison system in which inmates' reaches extend disturbingly far beyond the walls; extensive page time spent with a sociopathic serial killer on death row; and a complicated wartime-hinged flux of feelings about duty, destiny, and death.


But Hart also offers the hope of young love, the bedrock of true friendship, and brothers and their father who are earnestly trying to heal rifts that threaten to split them forever.

The twists and turns here are excellent, with interestingly layered motivations and complications. One moment is shown to turn multiple situations and lives on their heads.

The book is set in Charlotte, although the setting is not pivotal to the plot.


I received a prepublication copy of The Unwilling courtesy of St. Martin's Press and NetGalley.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

I mentioned my love for Hart's book The Last Child in the Greedy Reading List The Six Best Mysteries I Read Last Year. He's written many other books, including The Hush, the second in the Johnny Merrimon series, and the wonderfully written, often tough-to-read Redemption Road.


I first mentioned The Unwilling (along with The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James and Beneath the Keep by Erika Johansen) in the Greedy Reading List Three Books I'm Reading Now, 1/28/21 Edition.