To The River, Vikki Wakefield

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

I can almost feel a collective intake of breath when many crime fiction fans read a blurb that includes mention of "a brave dog". So right up front, the dog's fine. In other news, this is a very interesting novel that uses a mostly female viewpoint for a story that has a past as well as a present.

Sabine Kelly disappeared many years ago, after confessing to setting the fire that killed nine people in a remote caravan park 12 years ago. Since that time she's been living life on the run, hiding out on an old houseboat with her dog Blue for company, returning sometimes to visit her grandfather in the riverside home he's lived in for many years.

Living next door to Kelly's grandfather, journalist Rachel Weirdermann has long suspected Sabine is still somewhere in the vicinity, and her faltering career means that the story of Sabine could be the thing that gets her back in the journalistic game. 

Both these women have complicated pasts - although, obviously, Kelly's is considerably more confronting. Included in the nine people that died that night were her mother and sister, her mother having been a drug dependant woman who had a track history of relationships with abusive men with consequences for her and her daughters. Weirdermann has a divorce in her future, financial problems and a couple of kids who are mostly absent, unless they want something.

The coming together of these two women sets up the novel for the exploration of many levels - differences in class, background, lifestyle, ambition and intent being the obvious ones. The internal struggle of people confronted with massive change being the other. Either way, the coincidence of these two very different women meeting, triggers the intent for Kelly's story to be told. For Weidermann the potential to restart her career is tempting, but she's always been a woman who plays by the rules, so this is difficult territory for her. Kelly on the other hand, is more used to taking risks, but whether or not coming out of hiding after all these years is one risk too many remains to be seen. Ultimately the biggest problem for both these women is learning to trust again. And they have to do that together.

Emotionally charged, yet tough and matter-of-fact, TO THE RIVER is a really interesting, engaging and thought provoking novel. The emotion in the story has an overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness at some points, balanced against the respect, and friendship that these two women develop, and of course, the bit part played by Kelly's grandfather who is the epitome of an unpolished old gem.

The structure of the novel, telling the story from the alternative perspectives, chapter by chapter, includes Kelly relating her side of the 12 year old fire story. It keeps the reader within the minds of both central characters whilst also revealing the truth - one very different from the official accounts, a motive for that being revealed along the way. Despite it being such an effective structure, there is a point midway through the novel where things did seem to get a little confused and muddled for a very short while, before dusting itself off and getting back on track.

An interesting combination of a psychological thriller, with a couple of flawed, but engaging and very sympathetic central female characters, TO THE RIVER ticks many required boxes but does so in a unique form.

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The Kelly family has always been trouble. When a fire in a remote caravan community kills nine people, including 17-year-old Sabine Kelly's mother and sister, Sabine confesses to the murders. Shortly after, she escapes custody and disappears. Recently made redundant from marriage, motherhood and her career, journalist Rachel Weirdermann has long suspected Sabine made her way back to the river-now, twelve years after the 'Caravan Murders', she has the time and the tenacity to corner a fugitive and land the story of the year.

Rachel's ambition lights the fuse leading to a brutal chain of events, and the web Sabine weaves will force Rachel to question everything she believes. Vikki Wakefield's compelling story is about class, corruption, love, loyalty, and the vindication of truth and justice. And a brave dog called Blue.

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