REVIEW: Riptides by Kirsten Alexander

In brief: Abby and her brother Charlie cause an accident one night. They make the decision to say nothing, but their secret begins to haunt them straightaway.

The good: I could feel the humidity seeping through this book as the siblings are caught in their lies.

The not-so-good: It was incredibly humid weather reading this book!

Why I chose it: Really enjoyed Half Moon Lake. Thanks to Penguin for the copy.

Year: 2020

Pages: 337

Publisher: Bantam (Penguin)

Setting: Brisbane and country Queensland, Australia with a hint of Bali

Rating: 9 out of 10

Last year, I stumbled upon Kristen Alexander’s Half Moon
Lake and adored the complexities explored in the novel. There was no earthly way that I’d miss her next novel, Riptides, which is equally as enthralling. Although the topic and setting are quite different (missing child in America versus an accident in 1970s Queensland), Alexander creates a mesmerising story full of emotion, secrets and decisions, both good and bad.

The story starts with Charlie and Abby driving to see their father in country Queensland in 1974. Charlie falls asleep at the wheel and causes a car to run off the road, which kills the driver and her unborn baby. It’s a stormy night and any evidence they were there should be washed away, so they make the fateful decision to leave the scene after some turmoil. Abby is a mother of three with plans to study law at university next year and Charlie doesn’t want a criminal record as it means he may not be able to return to his fledging business in Bali. But on arrival, they discover that the dead woman was their father’s fiancé. They suspected she was linked to him, but this revelation makes things much more difficult. The police start asking questions, as does their father. Neither Abby nor Charlie need this stress added to their lives – it’s hard enough keeping their stories straight. After Christmas approaches, the heat and humidity build in Brisbane and tempers start to fray. Abby’s husband, an investigative journalist, is also beginning to tread on a few toes that could lead to evidence of police corruption. Both Abby and Charlie have friends revealing secrets that neither of them will light. The tension builds like storm clouds until there is a downpour of truth from all the major characters, leaving their ordered world shattered.

This is a taut, almost thriller like novel. I say almost because there are no major shoot outs or kidnappings like you would expect – Riptides is more of a cerebral, neighbourhood thriller where bad things both big and small pile up until they explode. The story explores tensions between siblings and parents – Abby and Charlie’s dad is very blunt in saying exactly what he thinks. He thinks Charlie is lazy (true) but doesn’t understand why he is living overseas. Both Abby’s father and her husband treat her like some kind of object in that she’s there to cook, clean and repeat. Why does she want to go to university and ruin her domestic life (apart from that it’s repetitive and never ending with no males ever lifting a finger to help)? Women are there for home and children only. The stereotypes of the 1970s are bold in Riptides, from the big things like politics and crime to how the characters dress. It’s almost nostalgic at times, and critical of authority (with the benefit of hindsight) at others. It’s incredibly well written (the humidity and heat is almost a character of its own) and the gamut of emotions the main characters experience as they walk away from an accident is realistic and gripping. It’s a tense, well plotted story that isn’t easily forgotten.

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