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To the River by Vikki Wakefield

01/03/2024
To the River by Vikki Wakefield

Australian author Vikki Wakefield moved from stories for young adults to the psychological thriller After You Were Gone. With her latest book To the River, Wakefield stays in adult territory to deliver a thriller set in rural Australia.

To the River opens with a horrific tragedy from 2007. Nine people, including a police officer, killed in a fire in a caravan park. The main suspect, seventeen year-old Sabine Kelly, escaped custody and has been on the run ever since. Twelve years later, Sabine is still living a reclusive life on a houseboat with her dog Blue. But a visit to her grandfather brings her to the attention of his ex-journalist and recently divorced neighbour Rachel who cannot help but investigate. Rachel sees Sabine’s story, which she has long been obsessed with, as a way of getting back in the game. And Sabine, tired of running, thinks that she can use Rachel to set the record straight and get some justice. Neither get exactly what they want as outside forces start applying pressure.

To the River has a familiar-feeling premise and the resolution of the mystery is flagged fairly early, but Wakefield brings some freshness to it through her well drawn main characters. Sabine is self-reliant, wary and wily but also trying to find a way to get out of the situation that she has been in for her whole adult life and find some normality. Rachel, on the other hand, is finding her own agency after emerging from her marriage, forced to challenge her long held assumptions about Sabine and trying to determine where her ethics lie as a journalist. Add to this is a sense of place, particularly the river, its denizens and its changing demographics.

While the mystery drives the opening in To the River it is more the consequences of reopening the investigation that drives the tension. Readers will accept early on that Sabine is innocent and expect that Rachel will come to realise that. But they will be quickly invested in the threats to both of them and the way they navigate both their relationship and the pressure coming down on them. All of which adds up to a page-turning and tense final act.

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To the River by Vikki Wakefield

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To the River by Vikki Wakefield

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