Author: Kirsten Alexander
Published: February 4th 2020
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, crime, Thriller
Rating: 4.5 stars
Set in Queensland during a time of tremendous social upheaval, Riptides is a gripping family drama about dreams, choices and consequences, from the author of the acclaimed Half Moon Lake.
One bad decision can tear your world apart . . .
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.
Riptides is a complex family crime based drama from Australian writer Kirsten Alexander. It is an heart-wrenching affair, that examines the fallout from a tragic accident that rips apart a family unit. Contemplative, divisional and involving, Riptides commands your full attention from the explosive first chapter to the final word.
Riptides brings the reader to the end of 1974, in the state of Queensland. One evening, Abby and her brother Charlie are travelling along a dimly lit country road when they accidentally move into the path of another car. The other car veers off the road and it hits a tree. The force of this accident causes the immediate death of the driver, a pregnant woman. When Charlie and Abby realise what they have done, they make a terrible decision that has far reaching implications. This selfish decision is made to safeguard their lives, but it has devastating consequences. When they eventually discover the identity of the driver they killed, it plunges them both in a pit of guilt, anxiety and lies. Riptides concerns itself with the implications of a fateful decision, with a bitter aftermath.
I was first introduced to Melbourne based author Kirsten Alexander just over a year ago when I read her gripping historical mystery novel, Half Moon Lake. I was keen to dive into Alexander’s second book and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Riptides is a rich and wonderfully complex family drama. It peels back layer after layer, revealing a litany of core issues. The focus family of Riptides has their problems, which is unpacked as the story progresses. I liked how Alexander unpicked these individual and group misgivings, by fleshing them out in the form of an intriguing narrative fold. Whilst I could appreciate the flaws of the siblings in this tale, along with their father, I also felt a great deal of sympathy for them. My anxiety levels were constantly high while I read this novel too! Alexander does an excellent job of placing the reader in the emotionally fraught shoes of her characters. With this aspect of the novel drawing appeal, I would love to present Riptides to my book club as a potential group read. There would be plenty to raise, discuss and theorise.
In terms of the structure, I really appreciated Alexander’s approach. The use of a double perspective narrative has enabled Alexander to explore different perspectives of the same incident and the fallout of an awful act of indecision from contrasted viewpoints. This is intertwined with a corrupt police investigation and the feelings of the father of the siblings. The accompanying dialogue and the authentic actions of the characters, ensures that Riptides remains a compelling read. I was amazed by just how fast I managed to get through the pages of this novel. Riptides is seducing, addictive and utterly consuming.
Alexander counterbalances the crime and mystery based aspect drawn from the pivotal opening accident, with a succinct portrait of life in the past, situated in mid 1970s Queensland. As a child of the eighties and a West Australian, I was appreciative of Alexander’s thorough presentation of this time period, as well as specific location. Riptides made aware of the political movements, social upheavals, corruption and community attitudes of this time. I found it insightful and engrossing, adding yet another powerful layer to this supreme crime novel.
A poignant, life affirming and awakening style conclusion completes Alexander’s journey with her intricate and tormented character set. A careful consideration of themes such as irresponsibility, blame, guilt, loss, grief, loneliness, dissatisfaction, fulfilment, aspirations, trust, loyalty, protection, justice and how we make decisions based on the greater good are explored with a deft hand.
Riptides is a family drama presented with an ethical touch. Kirsten Alexander’s second offering is a highly commendable novel, that will be sure to strike a chord with readers from a variety of preferred genres.
Riptides by Kirsten Alexander was published on February 4th 2020 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Riptides, Kirsten Alexander, visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Riptides is book #15 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge