Bibliophile | Family secrets unburied in Chris Hammer’s ‘The Tilt’

The Tilt
by Chris Hammer
Allen & Unwin

New homicide detective Nell (Narelle) Buchannan is rather annoyed that she has been assigned a decades-old murder case, a file-and-forget case that happened before she was born. In fact it even happened before her mother was born in the country town near the land formation known as The Tilt, where she also grew up.

The novel jumps back and forwards in time after a concrete regulator that had been built in 1938 on a stream that flowed into the Murray River is blown up in the present time. Originally intended manage water flow, it had been depriving the hinterland of water before an act of late-night sabotage released the water back into the old creeks, lagoons and swamps.

As the water drains away from its previously trapped confines, a skeleton is discovered that has the potential to solve at least one of the cold cases that have remained dormant in the town. The sound of gunshots echo through three different timelines, more bodies are discovered and tensions escalate in the present day as secrets slowly leak out.

One thing that makes it easier to navigate the convoluted goings on in the tension-filled story is the map showing where everyone lives, or lived, and the locations of key landmarks. The other thing is the fascinating family tree that shows how everyone, including Nell, is connected.

There are births, marriages and deaths, with dotted lines for more clandestine relationships involving children being born out of wedlock or, in one case, being moved to another family.

All the twists and turns unearthed bring Nell closer to the perpetrators of the crimes in more ways than just locating who they are. She finds out more about her family’s secrets, secrets that have been buried by historical and social stigmas and also the need to survive.

Lezly Herbert

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