I am wary of fictionalized missionary stories, so when I was asked to review “Millstone City” I approached it with some trepidation. Would I be faced with yet another maudlin coming-of-age tome about a young man from a small town in Utah learning about the “real world?”
The good news is that “Millstone City” is a very well-done novel, a pleasure to read, and filled with surprises. Mormon and non-Mormon readers will find a lot to like in this book.
The story is about a missionary in northeastern Brazil who witnesses a murder. He knows one of the murderers, whom he has recently baptized. He and his companion are then pursued by the murderer, who wants to make sure they don’t talk. Afraid for their lives, the two missionaries spend much of the book trying to escape. I can’t give away too much without spoiling the plot, but suffice to say that the missionaries see the gruesome underbelly of the Brazilian crime underworld that is horrifying — and quite realistic.
I should mention to readers that I lived in Brazil for four years, and I have spent some time in northeastern Brazil, so I know the region the writer describes. He has done an excellent job of bringing to life believable and accurate characters. We see the realities of this region — and the challenges that the region’s poverty and lawlessness create for its people.
Northeastern Brazil is also a region where missionaries are constantly baptizing new converts, and the good news is that “Millstone City” is faith-promoting without being preachy. The book shows the power of repentance and the affect that the Gospel can have on people who have made huge mistakes in their lives. The story of the murderer Heitor is a truly inspirational one and reflects the grim reality of poor Brazilians faced with few good choices.
Bailey, like all good writers, has learned that a few well-placed details help create real characters for the reader. He also is a master at providing good dialogue. I would also like to mention that this is one of those rare books that sucks you in right from the first page. I did not want to put it down once I started reading.
I would like to pick one small nit: the missionaries spent much of the novel trying to escape from the murderer to the mission house, which is some miles away. They are prevented from boarding a bus by the murderer, for example. I could not understand why they didn’t just flag down a taxi in the street, and this plot detail kept on bugging me for pages. I’m not sure if this would bug other readers.
One other note: this is definitely a PG-13 rated book. There are a few random curse words, and some very disturbing details about the activities of the Brazilian crime world. I would let my teenagers read it, but this is not a book for sensitive readers.
For the most part, however, this novel is a great success. Given all of the garbage out there in the world of contemporary fiction, you could do a lot worse than “Millstone City.” And if you like action-packed books that are faith-promoting, this is a must read.