December 1974. Abby Campbell and her brother Charlie are driving to their father’s farm on a dark country road when they swerve into the path of another car, forcing it into a tree. The pregnant driver is killed instantly.
In the heat of the moment, Abby and Charlie make a fateful decision. They flee, hoping heavy rain will erase the fact they were there. They both have too much to lose.
But they have no idea who they’ve just killed or how many lives will be affected by her death. Soon the truth is like a riptide they can’t escape, as their terrible secret pulls them down deeper by the day.
Set in country Queensland in the 1970s, Kirsten Alexander’s Riptides is a seductive family drama about relationships, trust, choices, and the consequences of one terrible decision.
The book begins on a deserted highway late at night, when siblings Abby and Charlie accidentally force another car off the road. The pregnant driver dies, and whilst Abby and Charlie should attempt to save the life of the baby, they don’t call for help and instead drive off. They later find out the woman was their father’s new fiancé, and the dead baby was their step-sibling.
“Mark would rail at my stupidity in staying silent and then lying to the police, and for effectively choosing my brother over my husband. He might divorce me. He loves me, no question, but his job means the world to him.”
Structurally, the novel moves between Abby and Charlie’s POV. We spend most of the novel witnessing their guilt, vulnerability and their attempts to lie to the police and move on from what happened.
We also come to understand tensions between family members. The plot jumps back a few times to give us context about Abby and Charlie’s circumstances. Abby is a mother of young children, whose husband is supportive and helpful, but a little absent from the domestic duties.
Charlie has been living in Bali with his best friends Ryan and Sal. Charlie is in love with Sal, and his time in Bali is his way of avoiding any real responsibilities at home. The main reason he didn’t want to call for help at the scene of the accident, is because he didn’t want anything to jeopardise his plans to return home to Bali. He’s a very dependent man. He often lets — or expects — Abby to solve his problems.
“By the time I arrived in Kuta, Ryan and Sal had decided to set up a restaurant that would serve noodles, juice and cheap beer. Not the vibe we’d originally talked about but there was a garden behind the kitchen and the food was right for the location.”
Riptides captures the complex dynamics within a family. Abby and Charlie’s father is a short-tempered man, who appears quite closed off, unwilling to forgive, and still mourning the loss of his wife years earlier. Abby feels she’s missing out on opportunities because she spends so much time doing things for her husband, her children, her father and her brother.
The book is set in a decade where women were expected to be stay-at-home mothers, looking after their children and managing the household for their husband. Abby wants to enrol in university and study law, and whilst her husband is supportive of this plan, her father is sceptical and questions her priorities.
Abby and Charlie constantly bicker and are incredibly different — Abby is reserved and organised, a planner. Charlie is more of a free spirit, never wanting to settle down and always looking for the next thrill. The car accident forces them to confront their differences and align on a plan, and, over time, it forces them to confront each other and overcome their grievances.
“Dad gets up with a grunt. As he stands, Abby steps back. Mum always said Dad’s temper was a war wound. He’s a tough nut. He likes to tell me how easy my life was, as if it’d be good for it to be otherwise.”
Tense, sophisticated and highly addictive, Riptides had me hooked. The writing is tight and polished, cutting to the emotion of the tragedy. The dialogue is realistic and builds suspense. Riptides is set in Queensland during a time of social upheaval, and Kirsten brings Brisbane to the forefront of the story and presents a story that’s fast-paced and compelling. Readers will find themselves enticed and entertained, ripping through the pages.
Recommended for fans of crime, drama, thriller, family dramas and mysteries.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Penguin Random House Publishers