REVIEW: At the sea is a change from Nikki Crutchley’s three previous popular detective novels, all focused on small town murders. While these have been self-published with some success – its debut Nothing bad is happening here was picked last year for the small screen – it’s the first of a two-book deal with HarperCollins Australia and has been described as a combination of Daphne du Maurier and Paula Hawkins.
The setting here is a remote coastal paradise from Aotearoa, seemingly inspired by Opoutere and Shakespeare Cliff in the Coromandel, where a family leads secluded lives close to nature. Hurley uprooted the family from its successful urban existence and sold his thriving bookkeeping business after what he describes as a fishing accident.
This resulted in the deaths of his best friend and Hurley himself who washed up on the shore of what would soon be called Hurley’s Bay, with a serious head injury and a new outlook on what matters in life. So, he bought a house in the remote area, brought his wife and two children and proclaimed it Iluka, a place he says he bought to “become one with nature, land and ocean “.
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He also changes family names – his original name was the more prosaic David – and installs a padlocked wooden door to discourage visitors, shutting off the world as much as he can. Her young daughter Anahita loves the move and resents her mother who hates the remote place and the change that happened after her husband’s accident.
In the secluded setting, Hurley is free to give vent to his megalomania, abuse, and controlling nature.
He sets rules and cuts the family off as much as possible from the outside world, punishing those who disobey by cutting off their arms with sharp seashells or burying them in the sand up to their necks as the tide rises.
The eccentric behavior of the family has not gone unnoticed by locals; people avoid them when they venture into town and gossip is circulating. âWe have our stories, our beliefs here in Iluka,â he explains. âPeople over there don’t understand. They think we are differentâ¦ â
The novel uses a dual timeline passing from today – focusing on Hurley’s 18-year-old granddaughter Ana – and what happened decades ago, as recounted by Ana’s mother. , Anahita. Crutchley expertly creates tension, one narrative feeding off the other as crucial incidents come to light and shed light on the current plot.
Despite the isolated setting, Crutchley here works on a larger emotional canvas and combines elements of a thriller with a grim and unsettling portrayal of long-term effects on a family living under horrific physical and mental abuse that spans across the walls. generations.
Yet that criminal record guarantees a shocking, twist-laden ending that few will see coming. Although the subject makes it difficult at times, At the sea is Crutchley’s most accomplished novel to date – and one that should showcase his talents to a much wider readership.
At Sea by Nikki Crutchley (Allen & Unwin, $ 35)
* This notice was originally published on Books by Kete and is reproduced with kind permission.