To The Sea: an elaborate mystery from a true storyteller

When a swimmer disappears in Tasmania, a sprawling multi-generational mystery unravels...
Books

Zoe Kennett is reported missing after going snorkelling, although the notification is only made nineteen hours later.

A Detective Inspector from Hobart CIB leads an investigation into the disappearance. In Christine Dibley’s book To The Sea, Tony Vincent and a team head out onto the Tasman Peninsula to the Kennett home. Rosetta was built nearly two centuries before by maternal Irish forebears and sits at the end of a gravel road on 156 acres that constitute Garnet Point. It is three days after Christmas and the whole family is present, but when the young Inspector speaks with them he finds some strange anomalies.

The 17-y.o. Zoe, Kennett family baby by many years, appears to have been almost invisible on that last evening:

  • none among the sixteen present, including nieces and nephews much her own age, can picture what she wore at the dinner table on the night, although they are certain she drank a glass of champagne.
  • a niece recalls she was quiet, sitting at the table with headphones on. Dinner ended about 7:30 and they knew she was going snorkelling – not unusual, given the long Tasmanian twilight remaining light until ten – but none of them actually saw her head out, let alone enter the water.
  • it seems more than passing strange, too, that she didn’t wear her favourite bikinis, still hanging on the clothesline after a swim earlier in the day.
  • nor did she leave a towel folded on the jetty for her return.
  • when one of the family recalls Zoe wearing pale blue, memory of the colour returns to the rest and yet, when a photo is later found of the evening, she is clearly wearing bright orange.

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At first, with so many people involved, To The Sea feels as if it might become difficult to follow; this is not the case, however, as the story unfolds through the eyes of four main characters. It seems the main character is to be the perceptive DI Tony Vincent  – the sergeants tease him good-humouredly about being a ‘smartarse’, but only because he’s made Inspector by 26 – but in fact, this may not be so.

There are chinks in the Kennett family. Sadie believes she knows all the police will need to know; her husband Roger spits the dummy and leaves; the second sister, Cecile, cracks and delivers a dressing down; the whole family seemed to feel Zoe’s “…absense more than her presence.” The one matter on which they are certainly agreed is that although now in her mid-sixties, their still beautiful wife and mother (who bears the enchanting Gaelic name, Eoifa, sadly Anglicised to Eva) is ‘frail’.

There is a long chapter through the middle of the book that provides a distant glimpse into folklore enmeshed within with the hard life lived on the shores of County Mayo, home of the Mhaigh Eo Gaeltacht. We learn of Ornice, a daughter of the family many generations ago, from whom Eva sprung; how Ornice enters the dark waters of a Perigean tide and how she learns to become at one with the sea.

We hear, too, of a family migration through Ireland, England, France, Spain and on to the Crimea before, finally, the decision is made to head off to the opposite end of the earth, the newly settled Tasmania. It takes the descendants to a location facing out into the Southern Ocean, about as far away as it is possible to go from the dark North Atlantic of their origins.

The tale weaves its way through a variety of waves and currents, predominantly a story of mothers and daughters (as the author says, “Isn’t everything?”) When it appears the police are going to end up with another missing person case with no leads, is there one member of the cast who believes otherwise?

To The Sea is a ‘different’ read for me, although nicely so; planning and execution, especially for a first work, are of a generally high standard. The book starts well but is Christine Dibley able to maintain interest through 450pp, or does the reader’s attention wane? The best answer, perhaps, is to say I think it is written by a true storyteller and will keep watch for further titles under her name.

To The Sea by Christine Dibley is available now from Dymocks. Click here to learn more.

  1. Laraine Fisher  

    A great review John,but as I have two books already on their way to me I will not add this to the list. Does sound intriguing nevertheless.

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