What I’m reading: Thrillers don’t come better than this



North Carolina, 1972. In a grungy suburb of Charlotte, Jason French, a Vietnam war hero who ended up with a dishonourable discharge, comes home after a spell in prison for crimes of violence. His father is a police detective. His parents and 18-year-old brother Gibson are still mourning the death of Jason’s twin brother, also in Vietnam. Within days of Jason’s return a local good-time girl is horrifically tortured to death. The killer leaves evidence which frames Jason for the murder. His father and brother separately try to locate the real killer, a sociopath hired by a Death-Row prisoner known only as X, the most chilling psychopath since Hannibal Lecter.

The book is narrated from several viewpoints, including three of the Frenches and Reece, the killer-for-hire. As well as a crime procedural, this is also a story about fractured families, especially about brothers. And teenage Gibson falls in love for the first time with a local girl who becomes a potential target for the sociopath. Tenderness and terror side-by-side: a potent mix.

John Hart, like Hannibal Lecter’s creator Thomas Harris, takes a few years to produce each new book, but they are, like Harris’s, well worth the wait. Stylistically arresting and cunningly plotted, The Unwilling is an A-list example of the psychological thriller. They do not come better than this.

My only complaint is that the publishers have economised on paper by printing to the very bottom of each page, omitting the normal margin; sorry to say this, but I hope Bonnier Books will risk cutting down a few more trees in future (recycling better).

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