cover image The Tally Stick

The Tally Stick

Carl Nixon. World Editions, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-64286-098-6

Three English children survive a deadly car crash in the New Zealand wilderness in the affecting and propulsive latest from Nixon (The Virgin and the Whale). In 2010, Suzanne Taylor receives word in London that her nephew Maurice Chamberlain’s remains have been found in New Zealand, proving he lived for several years after his and his siblings’ disappearance in the wake of a 1978 car crash that killed his parents and his infant sister. Suzanne had made frequent trips in the early ’80s in search of the children, and the narrative gradually unfolds the story of what happened as well as the mystery of Maurice’s death, beginning with the crash. The three oldest children survive: Maurice, 14; Katherine, 12; and Tommy, seven. A menacing man named Peters discovers them and takes them back to the farm where he lives and grows marijuana with Martha. The couple puts the children to work, claiming they are too far from town to send for help. Maurice suspects they are lying, and when Martha convinces the increasingly attached Katherine that the children will have to work off the debt of caring for them, Maurice’s foiled escape attempts, harsh punishments, and inability to head off Katherine’s growing attachment to Martha build toward his death. Nixon’s prose is arresting, beginning with a description of the crash (“For a fraction of a moment, the headlights shone east over the forest. Diamonds glittered in the white light”), which generates consistent appeal for the thrilling and emotionally nuanced story. This is electrifying. Agent: Maria Cardona, Pontas Agency. (Jan.)