Tuesday, November 1, 2011

At the End of the Road by Grant Jerkins

Fabulous suspense, coming of age novel with a creepy, dark core.

At the End of the Road is Grant Jerkins's second novel and there is nothing of the sophomore slump about it. Set in rural Georgia on the cusp of the coming suburban sprawl that's ready to explode out of Atlanta, At the End of the Road is the story of ten year old Kyle and how radically his life changes one day in 1976 after he causes a car accident and then doesn't help or get help for the injured driver. When Kyle returns to the scene of the accident, there's no trace of the driver or the car, which had rolled on its side.

A series of events unfold and Kyle's secrets build and turn into lies. He eventually starts to believe his lies, to some extent, and then they start to take a physical and deeply emotional toll on him and on his little sister Grace. At one point I started to wonder if Kyle wasn't right in the head, but then I recalled what it's like to be a ten year old with a big problem, one that you've never had before and know adults would freak out about and then who knows what will happen to you. You'd be beyond in trouble. And it is 1976. I'm not sure how well this novel would work set in 2011, in an America that is much more sophisticated about crime, technology, and communication. It would be doable, but it would certainly be a different novel.

Kyle lives on Eden Road. You can read this novel as just a good, well-written suspense story, or as an origin story for a life of drugs and alcohol addiction, or even, yes, as a retelling on the story of the Garden of Eden.

I was ten years old in 1976 and even though I grew up in an urban environment, I could relate to Kyle in many ways. I remember the popularity of Wonder Woman, shopping at Zayre, and the dangers of playing with matches and Drano. His childhood is pretty standard: siblings who either ignore him or become his best buddy, parents who aren't really paying attention to their kids because they're wrapped up in their own pain or routine, the casual violence of children running free, neighborhood bullies, and mean neighbors who construct believable social facades for the adults around them.

Except that in Kyle's neighborhood there's someone who is beyond mean.

I really enjoyed Grant Jerkins first novel, A Very Simple Crime, which came out last year [see review here]. I was still a bookseller back then and regularly hand-sold copies of that book to mystery readers who were looking for something new. Most of them came back asking if I knew when Jenkins' next book would be out. Alas, the bookstore where I worked is no-more, but I hope those customers find At the End of the Road at their "new" bookstore or library because it's a really good read. It's been a long time since I gave a book a 5-star rating on Goodreads, but this one earned it for its smooth writing and understated storytelling.

If you're looking for something different, something that reads like a combination of Mark Twain, Stephen King, and a dash of Patricia Cornwell, At the End of the Road might be up your alley.

At the End of the Road
Grant Jerkins
Berkley Prime Crime
ISBN: 978-0-425-24334-3
Genre: Suspense, mystery
Source: review copy

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