Book review: To the Sea by Nikki Crutchley

To the Sea is another entertaining thriller and worthy page-turner from 2021 Ngaio Marsh Award shortlisted New Zealand author Nikki Crutchley.

I loved Nikki Crutchley’s first three books, Nothing Bad Happens Here, No One Can Hear You, and The Murder Club. I’ve had a copy of this one, To the Sea, for months and months after going to a good bit of trouble to buy a copy after the publisher released it in Australia and New Zealand. But since I’ve had a constant flow of read for review books this year and feel an obligation to give those the priority, I’ve only just got to Crutchley’s latest release. It’s such a brilliantly written book, it feels a bit confronting and challenging to review it since I wonder if I can even do justice to it. It’s a thriller, but one with almost a literary feel. I read this easily in a sitting and it’s certainly the kind of story that induces you to do so. Crutchley builds steadily to the action-packed climax, but she paces it so perfectly it never drags. This book and the events within feel so real that it’s as if we readers are glimpsing real life struggles, hidden secrets, pain, and anger.

To the Sea

by Nikki Crutchley

Published by: Harper Collins

on December 01, 2021

Source: Purchased

ISBN 978-1-4607-6043-7 (Paperback)

Genre(s) Thrillers and Suspense

312 pages

A compulsively readable suspense thriller from Ngaio Marsh Award shortlisted author, Nikki Crutchley, which will keep you guessing and reading up until late into the night.

Iluka has been the only home that 18-year-old Ana has ever known. The beautiful wild pine plantation overlooking the Pacific Ocean where her grandfather builds furniture, her aunt runs an artists’ retreat and her uncle tends the land, is paradise, a private idyll safe from the outside world.

But the place holds a violent secret and when a stranger arrives, Ana will need to make a choice: to protect everything – and everyone – she holds dear or tell the truth and destroy it all.

An atmospheric, suspenseful, dark and twisty thriller in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier, Paula Hawkins, Anna Downes and JP Pomare.

The book opens with a flashback to twenty-three years before the present day. A man named Hurley survives a near fatal boating accident at sea that claimed the life of his best friend. Hurley emerges from the experience believing the sea took his friend but spared him to give him a second chance at life, and he undergoes a marked personality change. Much to his wife’s chagrin, he sells his business and the family home and moves his wife, daughter, and son to a secluded seafront, pine covered property he names Iluka. Hurley also changes the names of his wife and children, giving them names associated with the sea. The family subsists on sales of the furniture Hurley builds from the pine trees on the property, the operation of an artist’s retreat bed-and-breakfast, and by tending the land. While Hurley and his thirteen-year-old daughter believe Iluka and the near hermit-like existence of the family idyllic, his wife never adjusts to it and eventually makes plans to leave with their young son. But thanks to Hurley, Iluka is a bit like the Hotel California. You can check in anytime you like, but can never leave. Not alive. When he discovers his wife had packed to leave, he murders her, but arranges it to look like a suicide and the local authorities accept that was what happened. The story continues to switch back and forth between the past and present, teasing out the family secrets that help us soon understand that there is nothing idyllic about Iluka at all. The sinister place inhabited by a troubled family with shocking secrets would be right at home in a Stephen King horror novel. More murders happen and as the macabre family secrets get revealed to the reader, the suspense builds and builds until the end. Ana, Hurley’s eighteen-year-old granddaughter is the main character. I enjoyed the complexity of her relationship with her grandfather and mother. Crutchley does a fabulous job of giving readers insight into the life of someone who loses her innocence once she discovers the family secrets about gruesome events that occurred before her birth, and how she struggles to make sense of it all against the backdrop of the home her family raised her to love and protect at any cost. This is another great read from Crutchley. Her writing seems effortless, or at least reading it makes it seem so. There are some deeper themes on offer, including the right versus wrong and good versus evil. Crutchley throws in a few surprises on cue for good measure, teases out the secrets along the way, and gives readers a splendid climax.

To the Sea is another entertaining thriller and worthy page-turner from 2021 Ngaio Marsh Award shortlisted New Zealand author Nikki Crutchley.

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