Books & Literature

Book Review: To The River, by Vikki Wakefield

THRILLER: Vikki Wakefield’s compelling psychological thriller is about class, corruption, love, loyalty, and the vindication of truth and justice.

An emotionally honest story of fire, family, corruption, murder and a dog named Blue.

Feature image credit: Text Publishing

Vikki Wakefield’s latest novel, To The River, is a captivating psychological thriller that transports readers to the picturesque and awe-inspiring landscapes of the Murraylands, Riverland, and along the River Murray in South Australia. With her distinct flair for suspense, Wakefield weaves a complex tale of mystery, tragedy, and resilience, engaging the reader’s curiosity by the end of the second page and sustaining it with a narrative as intricate as a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle for which no reference picture is provided. 

The novel explores the interconnected lives of two central characters, each vividly described as “broken, tough and damaged women” on the front cover (a quote from Shelly Burr.) This description not only draws the reader in but sets the tone for the depth and complexity of the story that unfolds. Through multiple timelines, Wakefield delves into tumultuous pasts and presents, painting a portrait of struggles with striking emotional honesty. 

One protagonist is a young woman, tragically orphaned following a fire that claimed not only her mother and sister but also several friends and neighbours. The other, a journalist, was recently made redundant in all aspects of her life — marriage, motherhood, and career. In her quest for a story that could potentially resurrect her faltering career, the journalist becomes entwined with the teenager’s confession and subsequent disappearance, creating a compelling core to the narrative. 

To the River is masterful in its depiction of small-town dynamics, where bias, loyalty, and corruption swirl beneath the surface, influencing lives in subtle and profound ways. Wakefield skilfully addresses themes of love, loss, and the relentless pursuit of truth and justice. Her portrayal of these elements is nuanced, avoiding cliché by giving each theme a fresh and impactful treatment. 

A standout feature of Wakefield’s storytelling is her ability to build suspense akin to assembling that jigsaw puzzle without a guiding image. Each chapter is a puzzle piece, slowly revealing more of the story’s complex picture. This metaphor is not just a stylistic device but a reflection of the reader’s journey — piecing together fragments of narratives, backstories, and revelations, escalating in excitement as the picture nears completion. 

Adding to the rich tapestry of the novel is Blue, a brave heeler dog who not only offers moments of canine charm and loyalty but also symbolises enduring spirit in the face of adversity. Blue quickly becomes a character readers will adore, embodying traits that resonate deeply within the human condition: loyalty, bravery, and an unyielding will to protect. 

Wakefield’s To The River also boldly addresses the vindication of truth and justice in a setting where personal histories and local allegiances often overshadow these ideals. The story’s resolution provides a satisfying culmination of the intricately laid themes, leaving readers fulfilled and reflective. 

Vikki Wakefield’s To The River is a remarkable addition to Australian literature, particularly within the psychological thriller genre. This book enthrals, challenges, and ultimately rewards its readers with a richly woven, thrilling and thought-provoking narrative. It is a must-read for anyone who cherishes stories that compel you to think, feel, and, perhaps most importantly, piece together the bewildering elements of human lives and motivations.

Reviewed by Leanne Caune

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Text Publishing
Released: February 2024
RRP: $34.99

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