Grist Mill Road by Christopher J Yates

The Blurb On The Back:

Hannah and Matthew were just playing a game. But now he is tying Hannah to a tree. And she has never been so terrified. Patrick is there too, hidden, watching. He can’t move.  He can’t take his eyes off Matthew’s gun.

Years later, miles away in New York City, living adult lives they never would have imagined, the three will meet again. With even more devastating consequences. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s August 1982 in Roseborn, New York state.  12-year-old Patrick McConnell (the son of the ambitious local District Attorney) and his best friend 14-year-old Matthew Weaver (a kid from the wrong side of the tracks with a deadbeat, abusive father) have trekked up the Swangum Mountains with 13-year-old Hannah Jensen (the daughter of the richest family in town, who own the local cement plant).  Matthew sends Patrick away on an errand and he returns to find that Hannah has been tied to a tree and Matthew is shooting at her with a BB gun.  By the time Matthew has finished, Matthew has shot out Hannah’s eye.  Patrick witnessed it all.

It’s 2008, New York city. Patrick and Hannah are married and live in a luxury apartment with a view of Time Square and the Empire State Building.  Hannah works as a journalist covering the city’s crime beat but Patrick has just been made redundant from his data analysis job at financial firm and while he looks for a new one, he works on his cooking blog and dreams of setting up his own restaurant.  And then one day Patrick gets a comment on his blog, offering him lunch at a very exclusive restaurant run by a chef who Patrick admires, to be accompanied by a business proposal.  Only the admirer turns out to be someone from Patrick’s past and suddenly, everything that’s recently happened to him starts to make an awful kind of sense …

Christopher J Yates’s debut literary thriller examines the events leading to a childhood crime and its ramifications from the perspective of each protagonist with pacing sacrificed for character development which is unfortunate as I found them little more than stock caricatures whose decisions solely serve the plot and were therefore difficult to relate to while the plot itself is predictable and a little trite so it never really engaged me.

For me the big issue with this book is the predictability.  Although Yates works hard on each of the trio’s backstory (and I did enjoy Hannah’s wry, slightly self-mocking section and the way she acknowledges her own privilege). However the decisions that each makes is clearly there to move the plot on – most notably in Patrick’s section where I didn’t buy into his rationale for what he thinks is happening, especially given the length of time that’s existed since seeing Matthew and his lack of curiosity in having any kind of meaningful conversation with him.  This is all supposed to add to the tragedy of the ending, but for me it was just irritating as it makes the finale seem quite thin and artificial (and the same can be said about a key exchange between Matthew and Hannah where there is literally no rationale given for why Hannah thinks she saw what she saw and which, based on Matthew’s point of view of the same scene, there’s no justification for the accusation).  I also found it very difficult to believe that Hannah and Patrick simply never discussed what happened to her, given that the event cast such a shadow over each of their lives.

There are some well done scenes in the book – I particularly liked the relationship between Matthew and Pete that’s part father-figure, part crush and which Yates handles with sensitivity.  Certainly it’s the most emotionally real relationship in the book, in part because of the tone in Matthew’s narration as he looks back on how he came to terms with his sexuality.  Also good are the scenes between Hannah and McCluskey (a New York detective she’s friends with) as the dialogue cracks with banter and warmth and I believed in his protective feelings for her far more than Patrick’s.

Ultimately, I just didn’t think that this book had the character depth or the tight plotting I generally look for in thrillers and as such, while it’s not a bad read, it wasn’t a gripping one either and I wouldn’t rush to read Yates’s next book.

GRIST MILL ROAD was released in the United Kingdom on 9th August 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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