THE TILT By Chris Hammer
Chris Hammer mixes up a heady brew of murder, rural history, old family secrets and modern day terrorism in his latest novel, The Tilt (Allen & Unwin, 5 October 2022).
The Tilt re-unites the two key characters from Hammer’s last book, Treasure & Dirt, homicide detective Ivan Lucic and Detective Constable Nell Buchanan, who has recently joined the rural homicide team based at Dubbo. For their first case they are dispatched to near the New South Wales and Victoria border, where an old skeleton has been discovered in a recently emptied reservoir. The murder seems to date back to the 1940s, but it could also be linked to more recent crimes, and when a further body is discovered, the heat is on Lucic and Nell to quickly solve it.
Nell comes from the local area where the skeleton was found, and as the investigation progresses it seems that her family might have links to the killing and other old crimes from the past. Meanwhile Nell also has to deal with some sinister, shadowy figures, who are well armed and willing to inflict violence to achieve their aims.
The Tilt is a big book with a rich amount of detail and gently developing storylines. The story is mainly told from Nell’s perspective as she purses her first investigation and juggles the demands of family, but interweaved into it are extracts from Jimmy Waters’ statement that goes back to his childhood in the Second World War and Tessa’s story of what happened to her in 1973. As the narrative switches between the three gradually merging timelines, Hammer delivers some good surprises and creates an interesting historical narrative of the local area.
Each of the three timelines are convincing and credible, and Hammer accurately portrays the tensions of today and also what it was like in rural Australia in the early 1970s. Despite its length, the book moves along at a good pace, aided by the increasing threats against Nell by well armed locals. Keeping track of the various family members down the years, and their links to the modern crimes, requires some concentration, but it is worth the effort.
As with his earlier novels, Hammer vividly describes the Australian landscape and the spread of local towns with their “roads that are too wide, trees that are too far apart, air that is too dry.” And he also captures the tensions that have emerged in the wake of COVID: with a local pub decorated with Eureka flags, Trump imagery and anti-vaccine signs: “There’s a placard, souvenired from a rally – OUR KIDS ARE NOT LAB RATS – and another next to it: TRUST GOD, BURROCRATS.”
With his well-trained journalist’s eye, he quickly paints a scene and effortlessly imparts a wealth of background information on a range of topics from the operations of the regulator that controls the water flow on the river, to yabby hunting to the retrieval of records from Australian War Memorial. He also recreates the feel of what it was like in Australia during World War II and the sense of optimism and opportunity that followed Whitlam’s election.
As with the earlier books, all the characterisations are astute, well developed and subtly drawn. The central pairing of Lucic and Buchanan come across as credible characters with believable flaws and uncertainties, and they both continue to develop in a believable way. The other characters are also interesting and avoid the usual stereotypes, especially Tessa.
Overall, The Tilt is a very impressive and enjoyable crime novel. I really liked the depth of the plot and the immersive nature of the historical descriptions, and the ending packed a good punch. Some trimming would have enhanced the tension, but overall it is a stand-out crime novel.
Four to four and a half stars out of five!
The Tilt was released in Australia on 5 October 2022. It is being released in the United Kingdom under the title Dead Man’s Creek and is presently available there on Kindle. It will be released in the United Kingdom in book form on 5 January 2023.
Thanks to Allen & Unwin and the Canberra Weekly for an advance copy of the book for review.