Riptides by Kirsten Alexander

‘I wake when Abby shouts.’

1974, rural Queensland.  Charlie Campbell and his sister Abby are driving to their father’s farm.  Charlie, who has fallen asleep at the wheel, forces another car of the narrow, unlit road.  They stop.  When they realise that the heavily pregnant woman is dead, they drive away.  They leave her on the ground, as heavy rain falls.  They tell no-one.

The next day, they arrive at their father’s farm and learn that the dead woman, Skye, was their father’s fiancée.  Charlie and Abby decide to tell no-one what has happened.

 ‘It will make my life worse, and possibly destroy the lives of everyone around me if I tell the truth.’

The narrative alternates between Charlie and Abby.  Charlie, temporarily in Australia, usually lives in Bali.  Abby is married to an investigative journalist and is a stay-at-home mother of three.  Can they hide their involvement in Skye’s death?  Charlie learns, from his father, that Skye had a five-year-old son who is on a commune with her abusive ex-partner.  His father wants to rescue the boy and wants Abby to bring him up.

It’s a complicated story, set in the corrupt Queensland of the Bjelke-Petersen era. The characters are well-developed, and I kept turning the pages hoping for an outcome I could applaud.  While I didn’t get that outcome and I ended up feeling no sympathy for any of the adult characters, I was completely caught up in the story.  Unsettling and uncomfortable.

‘For every action there’s a reaction.  Nothing and no one escapes that fact.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith