In brief: Just after Christmas, a girl is reported missing, presumed drowned. But this case is nothing like anything DI Tony Vincent has seen before…
The good: This book really pulls the reader in to its world – it’s not what you think.
The not-so-good: It’s hard to explain without spoiling big secrets!
Why I chose it: I like to support Australian writers, many thanks to Pan Macmillan for the copy.
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Setting: Tasmania, Australia
My rating: 10 out of 10
To the Sea is a book I would have likely missed had the published not introduced me to it. I am so thankful that I read it though – this novel is so powerful and all-consuming that I think it will be one of my top reads for the year. Don’t be put off by the quiet, moody cover – To the Sea is an incredibly assured debut novel that blends crime, history and literary fiction with a secret ingredient. I can’t spill what that secret ingredient is because it may act as a spoiler, but for me it was beautifully, sensitively done.
To the Sea starts off as a pretty straightforward novel – a teenage girl has gone missing, presumed drowned off the Tasmanian coast. For DI Tony Vincent, it should be fairly straightforward. But when the detectives arrive at the family holiday home, things get stranger. Zoe had been missing for nearly 24 hours before her family reported her disappearance and why can’t they agree as to what she was wearing, or doing? For Tony, he becomes involved in the world of the Kennetts as he tries to piece together who Zoe was in this large family. Her much older brothers and sisters barely knew her and even her parents didn’t know all her secrets. Only Zoe’s mum, Eva, has an idea of where Zoe might be. She’s pretty sure that Zoe will be back. But on questioning, Eva’s reasoning doesn’t match logic. Her ex-boyfriend also tells some tales of Zoe’s unusual feats. Who, if anybody, is telling the truth and why is the family so bound by the past?
The story is told from multiple points of view, so the reader can see the viewpoint of detective Tony in addition to some of Zoe’s family including her mother, father and sister. Each of them bring a different aspect of what they thought had happened to Zoe, as well as their own stories. But who is the voice of reason? Eva is known for being a bit odd, sister Sadie has her own disappointments entwined with her thoughts and father John wants to protect Eva. It’s up to Tony, purveyor of facts, to bring it all together despite pressure from his boss and the police divers.
As the novel progresses, there is a swell of tension that rises through the Kennett family, breaking once Eva reveals her thoughts. It was at this point that the novel turned from a strong police procedural into a unique, powerful story. The change in storyline really sucked me in to its depths with the story within a story. I couldn’t help but drink it all in, thoroughly accepting of Eva’s suggestions. This part of the novel is beautiful in its strong emotions and descriptions of the landscape and history. You could say I was entranced even more than Tony was. The writing is beautiful, lyrical but most of all it was the ability of Christine Dibley to make me believe that I found awe inspiring. It’s difficult to believe that this is her first novel as it is so polished, multi layered and thoroughly tugs at the reader’s emotions. This is a novel that you shouldn’t pass by as it marks the introduction of a new Australian talent.