GRIST MILL ROAD by Christopher J. Yates
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
The Verdict: harrowing, visceral psychological suspense
As a reader, it sometimes feels like you’ve found a diamond in the rough when you crack open a book and discover a read that consumes your attention fully from first page to last. GRIST MILL ROAD by Christopher Yates provided this kind of escapist reading for me—if a dark, harrowing escape at that. Richly developed and vividly drawn, GRIST MILL ROAD is the sort of immersive book that demands your attention and, in exchange, delivers a superior and affecting read. Yates’ crime novel is as twisty as the best psychological thriller and as atmospheric as your favorite small-town drama, but it’s also raw and emotionally honest—a blend that elevates this crime novel from good to great. GRIST MILL ROAD uncovers the little traumas that we inflict upon one another, and explores the lasting fallout of these deadly mistakes—all told through the varying perspectives of the three individuals involved in the book’s central crime. Inventive, affecting, disturbing—GRIST MILL ROAD has earned any of the many, many glowing adjectives I’d attribute to it.
Grist Mill Road is a dark, twisted, and expertly plotted Rashomon-style tale. The year is 1982; the setting, an Edenic hamlet some ninety miles north of New York City. There, among the craggy rock cliffs and glacial ponds of timeworn mountains, three friends―Patrick, Matthew, and Hannah―are bound together by a terrible and seemingly senseless crime. Twenty-six years later, in New York City, living lives their younger selves never could have predicted, the three meet again―with even more devastating results.
Perhaps the most exceptional part of my experience reading GRIST MILL ROAD - beyond the author’s superb writing, the book’s inventive structure, and its dark and driving plot - was in fact how all these many factors came together to deliver such a thoroughly immersive read. It seems like everyone I know is just so busy right now, myself included, that it can feel like a small miracle when something stops us in our tracks and holds us in one place, even if just for 350 pages. GRIST MILL ROAD was that kind of read for me: an utterly absorbing book that seemed to burrow itself in my mind and hold my attention even when I wasn’t reading it. I could speculate for ages about just what makes this book so immersive, but I’m not sure I’ll ever settle on just one element—and maybe it’s that exact quality that makes this book exceptional. Yates writes with a confidence and sense of place that is outstanding; he develops characters who are badly damaged and all the more compelling for their burdens; he has crafted a unique three hundred sixty-degree view of a single event that is one of the most inventive takes on a crime novel I’ve read in ages. Whatever that magic element is that keeps the reader hooked, GRIST MILL ROAD has it.
In many ways, the plot of GRIST MILL ROAD sounds a bit like your run-of-the-mill psychological thriller at first glance: a group of friends bound together by a terrible crime in their youth. What I could not have predicted going into this book was just how compelling and raw a read it would be. Not only has Yates constructed a stylistically sophisticated novel, but he has filled its every page with rough-hewn emotion—an unexpected and winning combination. Readers are drawn into a years-old mystery that has implications far beyond the physical damages resulting from its central event. GRIST MILL ROAD is a maze of deceit and long-harbored secrets, and readers will be held in suspense as the author slowly but surely unravels the many pieces of this dark puzzle. Truth is a moving target here, and Yates masterfully weaves together the varying perspectives of his main characters to pin it down. I absolutely loved this unique approach to crime fiction storytelling—there is something incredibly compelling about the idea that, as in real life, each character in GRIST MILL ROAD can only share his or her own experience of a single event. Yates does a superb job illustrating just how variable each character’s idea of “truth” might be, and I was fascinated - and disturbed - to see how these pieces of the truth ultimately came together to paint a picture more complex and harrowing than I could have anticipated.
If there’s one element of this book I was not expecting, it’s just how emotionally affecting this read was. GRIST MILL ROAD doesn’t shy away from exploring the casual traumas that people can inflict upon one another, especially in childhood. Yates tackles physical abuse and bigotry with painful bluntness - do exercise your best judgment here if these are themes that you find challenging to read about. The tragic realities that our main characters face are grim and disturbing, perhaps even more so than the violent crime this book begins with. GRIST MILL ROAD shocks not with gore or violence (although violence does play a significant role in this book), but rather with the tragedy of ordinary lives gone very wrong. The weight and nature of the secrets our main characters bear are perhaps more unnerving and disturbing than any bloody action sequence Yates could dream up.
I can confidently recommend GRIST MILL ROAD for crime fiction readers looking for a psychological thriller with a strong literary bent. Vivid and visceral, GRIST MILL ROAD is an outstanding crime novel exploring the fallout of long-hidden secrets that refuse to stay that way. Pick this book up for an affecting thriller that will keep you hooked - and keep you thinking - from first page to last.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Picador (January 9, 2018)
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