The opening chapter of The Tilt by Chris Hammer is prefaced by a map and a family tree. Now, I know many people LOVE a good map but I’m spatially challenged so tend to avoid them at all costs. And the family tree had me worried that there were so many players we’d need help remembering who was who. But thankfully it’s not the case at all. Instead it gives us context and a reminder how complex lives can be in small communities.
Interestingly I also realised that you sometimes assume there can be no secrets in small towns of intertwined communities and families, but instead it can mean they’re often so well hidden or buried they’re left to fester for years.The Tilt
by Chris Hammer
Series: Ivan Lucic & Nell Buchanan #2
Published by Allen & Unwin
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction
Newly-minted homicide detective Nell Buchanan returns to her home town, annoyed at being assigned a decades-old murder - a 'file and forget'.
But this is no ordinary cold case, as the discovery of more bodies triggers a chain of escalating events in the present day. As Nell starts to join the pieces together, she begins to question how well she truly knows those closest to her. Could her own family be implicated in the crimes?
The nearer Nell comes to uncovering the secrets of the past, the more dangerous the present becomes for her, as she battles shadowy assailants and sinister forces. Can she survive this harrowing investigation and what price will she have to pay for the truth?
I was so excited that Nell – who we met in 2021’s Treasure & Dirt – takes the lead here. I’d mentioned in that review that I wanted to meet her again, so (on starting this) tweeted that I assumed Hammer had my own wishes in mind when he gave Ivan a backseat.
I really like Nell and here we get more of her backstory. She’s reticent to spend time with her family and initially it seems they’ve been less-than-supportive of her police force ambitions, but she learns they’ve been doing some quiet bragging about her promotion to homicide detective.
Of course it’s not long before her own family is embroiled in the cases under investigation and though it seems the cold cases could be years apart and seemingly unrelated, her family (both her mother’s and father’s) have been around long enough that they’re privy to the events of long ago.
We’re taken back in time… to the late 1930s and the re-arrival of war (after the war to end all wars) through a statement made by James (Jimmy) Waters. And then to the early 1970s by teenaged Tessa, finishing high school with her life ahead of her.
The family tree helps us place Tessa and Jimmy and the relationships that come before and after. I liked that Hammer doesn’t belabour the connections – rather leaves it to us to do so.
There’s a lot of ‘fact’ or history embedded in the fiction in The Tilt and I must confess I had no idea we had prisoners of war kept in Australia. In addition to the topic of wars fought on foreign soil and the treatment of prisoners (man’s inhumanity to man) Hammer also deftly touches on a range of other issues, such as decisions to dam rivers – creating artificial forests and messing with nature. But he also includes links to contemporary political and social culture as the fictional towns featured here are resplendent with doomsday preppers and ‘cookers’ (antivaxxers, conspiracy theorists and QAnon devotees). Incidentally – in his notes Hamer advises he’s used fictional towns based on real forests created by the damming of the Murray River and he’s been inspired by a real life story relayed to him.
There’s so much to this story – so much history attached to our narrators: Tessa, Jimmy and Nell. Legacies – both good and bad. Never entirely balancing out the other. Legacies and secrets that come to the fore so many years later.
I enjoyed ‘both’ mysteries here and this is probably my favourite of Hammer’s novels since Scrublands. Having said that – the star again is his beautiful prose. In EVERY review I’ve written of his work I comment on his writing… seemingly surprised that a facts-focussed journalist is able to so eloquently set a scene. On reading this though I wondered if it’s not unusual. Perhaps the most talented journalists are also able to place readers fully in their story.
Here I started marking beautiful words and phrases from the opening paragraphs.
She breathes it in, the smell of it, the odour of this world. She can feel its desire, its thirst, the longing for water. She closes her eyes, then opens them again. The clouds part momentarily and the sky is ablaze with stars, so very bright through the canopy. It seems for a heartbeat as if it’s the galaxy that moves and the world that remains static. Then the greyness closes again and the illusion passes. pp1-2
The Tilt by Chris Hammer was published today in Australia by Allen & Unwin.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.