Saturday, July 21, 2012
Author: S.P. Bailey
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Electronic Copy
Books I've read this year: 84
I feel bad that I've let so much time pass since finishing this book and sitting down to write the review. I hate it when I do that, especially with a book that deserves a thoughtful review. Anyway, I'll do my best.
The best way I can describe Millstone City is a cross between The Best Two Years and Witness (not the Amish part, but the "I've seen too much and now I've got to hide" part). Yes, seriously. Elder Carson is a good missionary who is working hard to baptize new members in Olinda, Brazil, and who genuinely likes his companion, Elder Nordgren. And even though he's doing his best to put missionary work at the center of his life, when it gets late and Nordgren is snoring in the bed beside him, Carson can't help but think of how his family is falling apart back home. So one night he sneaks out of the apartment and heads for the corner store, where he can make an international phone call to his girlfriend. He knows that if he can just hear her voice, everything will be okay.
Carson isn't a rulebreaker, and after he finishes his call, he steps into the bathroom to collect his thoughts before sneaking back home. And then he hears shots. He steps out into the store, and sees the proprietor being murdered by two men. One of whom happens to be Heitor, a recently-baptized member of the ward, a young man who is the pride of his family, a young man who is preparing for a mission himself.
And now Carson has a problem. Nordgren has a problem. Hector has a problem. The elders need to get out of Brazil. Hector needs to get rid of the eyewitness, and his companion. What begins as an exploration of missionary relationships and missionary desires quickly becomes a nailbiting thriller. As a thriller, the story definitely works. Bailey adopts the short, clipped sentences of modern noir. But the whole story feels a little short and clipped too. I think I'm accustomed to reading thrillers in the 300+ page range, where the plot has lots of twists and turns and the baddies leave a trail of bodies in their wake. In this case, there are twists and turns, but the whole story is compact, and the body count is relatively few.
Where I think Millstone City really succeeds is as an exploration of character. In Carson and Nordgren, Bailey creates missionary characters who are both flawed and sympathetic, in interesting ways. They're motivated to do good, but they're not angels. They're also pretty darn scared. But I thought that the most interesting portrayal of character was Heitor. Yes, the guy is a killer. Yes, he's wrapped up in some pretty serious stuff. Yes, his first instinct is self-preservation. But he's also a boy who loves his family. A boy who probably believed, when he was hearing the missionary discussions, that there might be a chance that he too, could someday serve. The novel doesn't draw overt conclusions about Heitor's eternal state, but it does show Heitor struggling with the consequences of his actions.
The thing I like best about Millstone City is that it's eminently readable. I've read a lot of "Mormon" mysteries in the last year, and none of them holds a candle to this. I want to recommend it to my friends, push it into my husband's hands, and tell them all to go escape to Brazil for a few hours.