Cover Image: To the Sea

To the Sea

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

New Zealand crime thriller about family secrets

Content warning: family violence, coercive control, physical abuse, sexual assault, disability, trauma

“To the Sea” by Nikki Crutchley is a crime thriller novel about Ana and her family who live on a coastal New Zealand property they call Iluka. At 18 years old, all Ana has ever known is the house, pine plantation and cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In her family, everyone has a role to play: Ana and her mother Anahita manage the housework, her grandfather Hurley builds furniture, her uncle Dylan looks after the land and her aunt Marina organises artist retreats to supplement the family’s otherwise self-sufficient existence. Everything they need is at Iluka and there is no reason for Ana to ever leave. However, when she meets a man on the beach one day who seems to know who she is, and photographer Nikau on an artist retreat takes an interest in her family, Ana begins to ask herself questions like why she has no father. As the narrative shifts between Ana and her mother Anahita 20 years earlier, the answers to Ana’s questions grow more and more deadly.

This was a dark and tense book that showed how insidious and entrenched gender roles and violence can become in a family. Crutchley juxtaposes the sinister events of the books against an beautiful if unforgiving landscape, and I especially enjoyed her descriptions of the harsh coastline. It is a bit strange to write this, but there was considerable creativity in cruel ‘punishments’ meted out by Ana’s grandfather and some of the scenes feel etched into my memory. At the heart of this story is control, and as the book progresses it is gradually revealed why Hurley and, by extension, Anahita, are so obsessed with controlling everything and everyone in Iluka. This book is an excellent reminder of how two siblings who grow up in the same family can have radically different experiences. The different ways that Dylan and Anahita relate to their father highlights the diversity in how abuse and control can play out, even under the same roof. Crutchley prompts to the reader to think about the meaning of safety and how far is too far to keep a family ‘safe’.

Although overall this is a strong novel, there were some parts that did not feel as strong as others. Some of Ana and Anahita’s chapters probably weren’t necessary to the plot and could have been pared back to quicken the pace of the book. I also thought that some of the peripheral characters like Nikau felt a bit less developed. While I appreciate we were getting the story largely through Ana’s eyes, I think some of the later events would have felt more significant if the characters were more fleshed out. There was also a reveal at one point about a character’s identity which I had guessed way, way earlier in the book and I wasn’t sure that story arc added much either (except perhaps to reinforce the idea that people are awful and the outside world should be shut out completely).

A tense and well-written book that explores in depths the dynamics of an insular family.

Was this review helpful?

A slow and twisted eerie tale of a family cult on a clifftop by the ocean. Explosively opening with a confusing account of domestic violence and murder, the secrets get buried deeper and deeper as twenty years pass and the family remain cut off from reality.

The characters lacked growth and I struggled to understand their drivers as the turn of events became more and more unlikely, yet predictable. I was really hoping for a different outcome.

Was this review helpful?

One of the best books I"ve read in a long time. Suspenseful, atmospheric and thrilling from the very beginning, it was a joy to read from start to finish.
Following the story of young Ana at her home Iluka, she soon finds dark secrets which threaten to bring the family down to the ground. Ana's and Anahita's stories are told over 24 years and almost mirror each other in the people in their lives who challenge what they have and the decisions they make and both have many twists throughout and while Ana may feel she is the one to break the chain from Iluka, in the end she is realises the power of Iluka and the hold it has on people.
It also reminds me of Where the Crawdads Sing, with the location playing almost as major role as any of the characters and this is a definite next read for those who loved Crawdads.
#ToTheSea #NikkiCrutchley #Netgalley

Was this review helpful?

This is without doubt one of the most sinister psychological thrillers I have read in an awfully long time. It’s one of those novels that mines a very dark terrain: control, coercion, intimidation, brainwashing, violence, and murder. This is one family whose secrets you do not want to dig into.

Hurley, the patriarch of this family, was a seriously deranged individual. However, it was his daughter, Anahita, who frightened me more. There was something missing in that child that allowed Hurley to take over her mind and nurture her into the destructive woman she became. This area of the story put me in mind of cults and how leaders can reshape the minds of their followers and influence them in ways that seems incredible to an outsider.

I do recommend this, particularly to those who like a very twisted and sinister psychological thriller. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before, and it would make a brilliant movie within the right hands.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Was this review helpful?

A gruesome crime committed on a beach hemmed in by towering cliffs on a wild, remote stretch of New Zealand’s coast, provides a brutal first taste of the atmospheric thriller to unfold in Nikki Crutchley’s new novel To The Sea.

And it’s this same idyllic beach, some 23 years later, that’s part of a secluded coastal property, Iluka, which has always been home to 18-year-old narrator Ana and her family – and also the menacing setting for the entire story as it unfolds.

Crutchley’s evocative descriptions of Iluka – a fictionalised version of the beaches along the Coromandel Coast of New Zealand’s North Island – are immersive. The landscape becomes an additional character, in equal measures breathtaking and threatening – hallmarks that have become so synonymous with the growing corpus of great Kiwi noir fiction.

Against this backdrop, Ana’s grandfather has cut the family off from the rest of the world, ostensibly to “protect” their subsistence lifestyle, but in reality to unbridle his megalomania. With nothing else to compare her life to, Ana finds little to fault with the hard graft, strict rules and barbarous punishments dished out.

That is until a stranger arrives and prompts her to question the past, fraying her naïve acceptance of her family’s lifestyle. As she unearths a web of dark secrets and lies, she finds herself in a precarious position with the power to protect or destroy her beloved home and family.

This is New Zealand-born Crutchley’s fourth crime novel since her 2018 debut Nothing Bad Happens Here, which was shortlisted for New Zealand's annual literary prize for excellence in crime fiction, mystery and thriller writing – the Ngaio Marsh Awards. Her second, No One Can Hear You, was on the Award’s longlist in 2019.

Besides her broody depiction of the landscape, in To the Sea Crutchley provides discomfiting insights into domestic violence – the pervasive power of mental manipulation and physical harm – and explores how abusive control can be normalised through generations.

Her pacing and ability to boil tension throughout the novel is also skilful – I often felt I’d guessed the twists, but was gratified to find I was wrong.

But there were also a few letdowns for me.

At times I felt I needed to suspend my disbelief, to ignore the sense that characters and events had been implausibly jammed in to suit the plot. I also wished for more development in the crucial relationship between Ana and the stranger who prompts her dark discoveries – again, this lacked a bit of plausibility for such a critical plot point.

Despite these flaws, Crutchley has imagined a captivating storyline with uncomfortable tension and atmosphere and elements of grisliness that are not easy to forget.

Was this review helpful?

To The Sea by Nikki Crutchley is a profound, dark and disturbing story that left me feeling very uncomfortable.

Well written with great character development.

Illuka is an area on a cliff edge close to the ocean and is superbly described; the atmosphere of a rugged coast line and rough seas matches the story line which is full of dark, deadly secrets.

The story is told from two perspectives - the now is Ana and between 24 and 14 years previously is told by her mother, Anahita - and it took me a while to feel comfortable with the jumping back and forth in time; I’m actually not sure that it worked very well as I almost stopped reading because I found it annoying. I did persevere and preferred it as it moved to being in the present rather than the past.

I would recommend this novel as it was a captivating story with an unexpected ending!

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for a copy to read and write an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

Really loved this book by New Zealand author Nikki Crutchley. It’s not her first book and it shows in her accomplished dialogue and tension she sets.
Ana is 18 years old and Iluka is the only home she has ever known. She lives there with her mother, grandfather, uncle and aunt. Iluka is perched on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean, with its crumbling cliffs at the front and a forest of pine trees at the back the place is truly secluded and almost cut off from the next properties. The locals treat them with suspicion and the neighbours stay away. Ana and her family are pretty much self sufficient and that’s the way they like it, just them and the sea. When Nikau rents one of the cabins on the property for a photography retreat, he spends a good deal of his time trying to befriend Ana, and quizzing her on life at Iluka.
Told in two narratives, one through Ana’s mother some 24 years previous and Ana’s perspective now, we slowly see that this idyllic paradise holds dark, violent secrets and new comers and questions aren’t welcome.
This is a very atmospheric, dark story and would make an excellent movie. I highly recommend

#ToTheSea #NetGalley

Was this review helpful?