It’s the long, sultry summer of 1982 in a small town in upstate New York. School friends Matthew and Patrick are spending the day up in the Swangum mountains. Nothing about this is unusual – it’s where they’ve whiled away many summer days past.
‘I loved it in the Swangums, the summer of ‘81 one of the best of my life, me and Tricky spinning up the hill together and gazing down at shadows, the clouds in the sky painting dark lakes on the earth and our friendship growing little by little as we played our own games, turning life into a daily adventure.’
…But the events of this particular day in ’82 will irrevocably change their lives. Rather than indulging in the innocent games of two teenagers, their escapades that afternoon end in a brutal, horrific crime involving their female classmate, Hannah.
Fast forward to 2008; Patrick is adrift in New York, recently jobless, and feeling like a spare part next to his successful crime-journalist wife. The incident in the Swangums continues to haunt him, paralysed by the memory of what he did – or didn’t – do. Pushing aside the resurfacing trauma becomes all but impossible when a figure from his past returns – Matthew. What could he possibly want, after all these years?
As we hear the narrative from Patrick, Matthew and Hannah’s perspective, it slowly dawns on the reader that not is quite all it appears. With dexterity, the story puts forward a clear cut sequence of events – only to slowly dismantle it as the novel unfolds. The line of good and evil, hero and villain becomes ever more blurred as we hear not only what happened that hazy afternoon, but all the events that led up to that very moment.
‘The reality is there are more than two sides to most stories. Truth is seldom a lens, truth is a kaleidoscope, and I have my truth too.’
This is a masterful thriller; taut and suspenseful, with real, complex characters. It’s the kind of book you have to clear your diary for; an intense read with an intelligent narrative that is hard to put down. A promising talent, and I look forward to reading Yates’ acclaimed debut Black Chalk.
Thank you to Christopher Yates and Netgalley for the opportunity to review. Grist Mill Road will be published by Picador on January 9th, 2018.