Review: Riptides by Kirsten Alexander

Title: Riptides

Author: Kirsten Alexander

Published: February 4th 2020, Bantam

Status: Read February 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Au


My Thoughts:

Riptides by Kirsten Alexander begins with the most compelling first chapter I’ve read in a long a while.

“I wake when Abby shouts. She reaches across me and grabs the steering wheel. A car horn brays. White beams flare at us and then pitch to the right. For an instant, a rump of blue metal shines in our headlights.”

Siblings Abby and Charlie are driving to their father’s farm in rural Queensland when a moment of inexcusable negligence results in a young, heavily pregnant driver being forced off the road and into a tree. Shocked when they realise the woman is dead, and too scared of the repercussions for reporting the incident, Abby and Charlie drive away, vowing to pretend it never happened. Perhaps that would have been possible, but then they learn the dead woman, Skye, was not only the mother of a five year old boy now left in the clutches of her abusive ex-boyfriend, she was also their father’s fiancée, and the child she was carrying their half-sibling. Forced to bear witness to the consequences of their act, Abbey and Charlie begin to feel like they are drowning.

Set largely in Brisbane over a period of four months during the mid 1970’s, Alexander firmly establishes a sense of time and place. The city floods, and then bakes in the summer heat, police corruption is rife under a Premier who heaps scorn on ‘feminists, fags, and foreigners’ while privately profiting off shady land deals. Nobody thinks twice about driving after having a few, or more, drinks.

The narrative of Riptides alternates between that of Abby and Charlie. While both in their early to mid twenties, the brother and sister lead very different lives, allowing Alexander to represent the soiciocultural schism of the era. Charlie leads a carefree existence in Bali, running a noodle bar with friends in between surfing, drinking, and partying. Abby, married to an investigative television reporter, is a suburban, stay-at-home mother of their three children, though she dreams of being a lawyer. The characters are well rounded and nuanced as they deal not only with the aftermath of the accident, but also the fallout of the stress on their relationships.

Alexander effectively builds tension as the truth about the incident nears the surface, though I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed by several too-neat coincidences and connections that drove the plot.

Though Riptides is categorised as crime fiction, it is a multilayered novel examining several themes. I appreciated Alexander’s thoughtful exploration of the moral questions regarding Charlie’s and Abby’s decisions. In the main however, the book centers around family and relationships, particularly exploring how far those bonds can stretch before they snap.

A well written and thought-provoking novel, Riptides is sure to sweep you away.


Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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