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by John Hart

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-250-16772-9
Publisher: St. Martin's

A dishonorably discharged Marine returns home, throwing his family into chaos.

A family melodrama at first appears to be the center of Hart’s latest, a diffuse tale that lacks the drive of his other works. Jason French has just returned to Charleston, South Carolina. After a dishonorable discharge from the Marines, Jason spiraled into drug abuse and landed in prison. Now freed, his presence roils a wounded family. His twin brother, Robert, was killed in Vietnam. Family patriarch William and his wife, Gabrielle (a woefully undeveloped character), determine to keep Jason away from his impressionable younger brother, Gibby, a high school senior. Gibby looks up to Jason, eventually believing his dishonorable discharge was undeserved. Gibby’s coming-of-age tale might have focused the story, but it vies with a long lineup of characters, events, and themes trailing through the plot. Family drama morphs into horror story when a convict among a busload of inmates from a state prison farm spots Jason and informs Prisoner X (so named because his real name is Axel, or possibly because he killed 10 men). Worth millions and brutally powerful, X terrorizes prison staff and powerful outsiders into doing his bidding. X shared prison time with Jason and now, for reasons gradually parsed out, wants the ex-Marine back at the prison, so he manipulates his minions to murder a woman Jason knows and frame him for the killing. Fleeing arrest, Jason is captured and sent back to prison. Gibby thereupon determines to clear his brother of murder and learn what was behind Jason’s discharge from the Marines (alas, not a very startling reveal). Now the narrative turns into a more traditional police procedural. The case windup adds some much-needed juice to an otherwise slow-moving, colorless narrative, which ends with a chilling kicker.

Less would be a lot more.