The Unwilling

By John Hart. (St. Martin's Press, 384 pages, $27.99.)

John Hart, the author of six New York Times bestsellers, makes his mark again with the raw, intimate story of a family rocked by the Vietnam War and drugs, prison and the profound love at any cost that only blood ties can inspire.

The patriarch is a detective in a rural suburb of Charlotte, N.C. The hero (and villain, at times) is his estranged son Jason, a hardened and highly trained Marine who has come back from the war disgraced by a dishonorable discharge and a prison term for drugs. The second brother, Jason's twin, died bravely in Vietnam, his loss scarring the family forever. The youngest brother, Gibby, looked up to his brothers and is willing to forgive whatever wartime acts Jason has committed. The parents can't help but compare the three young men with such different personalities and outcomes.

When Jason gets out of prison, he looks up his little brother, who has been guarded fiercely by his bereaved mother well into high school and is innocent in the ways of girls and the world. Jason inevitably gets Gibby tangled up in something that seems harmless at first, but it builds into a foreboding terror involving dangerous prison enemies of Jason. Suddenly both Jason and Gibby become suspects in a horrific killing at the center of all these forces.

Hart's writing is tense and powerful. His references to the war's atrocities and mental and physical costs ring true, helping explain the shroud of silence that enveloped so many returning veterans of the time. Add a layer of prison corruption, unthinkable villains and a shocking magnitude of cruelty and you have a novel that you'll be thinking about for a long time after you turn the final page.