The Tally Stick by Carl Nixon
Published by World Editions
Publication date: November 2, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Mystery
The Chamberlains are beginning a new life in New Zealand, but before they do John Chamberlain decides they should explore the country. He sets off with his wife Julia, and their four children, Maurice, Katherine, Tommy, and baby Emma. After dinner in a local diner, they drive off in a pouring rain and disappear without a trace. The area they were in is rugged, undeveloped terrain and it’s 1978 so search and rescue technology is limited. Despite national and international attention nothing is ever found. How is it then that over 30 years later, Maurice’s bones are discovered on the coast far from where the family was last seen? With him is his father’s watch and a notched piece of wood known as a tally stick, an old-fashioned tool used to keep track of a person’s debts, and a rolled-up wad of cash. The Tally Stick is Carl Nixon’s elegiac, almost gothic imagining of what happened to the family.
From a heart pounding scene of the Chamberlains last moments together, The Tally Stick shifts forward to 2010 when Julia’s sister Suzanne is informed of the recovery of Maurice’s bones. For years after the family’s disappearance, she traveled from England to New Zealand combing the highways, roads, and even trails around the area where they stopped for dinner on their last night. While time has dulled the pain of loss, Suzanne is confronted with another mystery: Maurice’s bones indicate he was around 18 when he died. He was 14 when they arrived in New Zealand. Where had he been? Could any of the others still be alive?
The bulk of The Tally Stick is what happens to the Chamberlains after they drive off in the dark and rain. They are not abducted by aliens; this is not a science fiction novel, but the publisher kept the synopsis brief and vague and it’s the best choice for this story. Because, of course, there is a story. One that held my attention from start to finish and felt all too possible, but surreal at the same time. Do all the pieces dovetail perfectly? No. There is an unexplained element that seemed out of place, but Nixon constructs an evocative story. The emotions The Tally Stick conjures are left to the individual reader. And like the Chamberlains vanishing from sight I’ll leave it at that.
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*I received a free copy of this book from World Editions in exchange for an honest review.*