Review: RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE by Amanda Ortlepp

RunningAgainstTheTiedOrtleppAlthough set in a fictitious town Amanda Ortlepp’s RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE takes place in a very recognisable rural South Australia. The small Eyre Peninsula town of Mallee Bay is dominated by the oyster farming industry, local tourism and a sense of community (or the horror of everyone knowing everyone else’s business if you’re reading the book with my a city person’s eyes). Remembering the place fondly from her childhood holidays Erin Travers relocates there with her sons Mike and Ryan when her Sydney life collapses. Mike soon has a job with a neighbour’s oyster farming business and Erin starts to set down new roots with a win in the local art competition and a love interest but youngest son Ryan struggles to fit in at all. When increasingly worrying things start to go wrong for the Travers’ and others in the town suspicions fall easily. But not everybody is what they seem to be.

I am a city girl through and through and would need motivation along the lines of an impending annihilation of all large metropolises to force a move to somewhere as remote as Mallee Bay so could easily have found this book a struggle. Instead though I was quite intrigued by Erin’s story and the way Ortlepp tells it. What went wrong with her marriage? Why take the boys so far from their father? How much does everyone in her life know about all this? Does the town’s resident Lothario have sinister intent with respect to Erin? Is she seeing dead people? And what about the boys? Is each as he appears is one or other of them hiding secrets? Ortlepp does a great job of making the reader question or suspect everything and everyone in the tradition of the best suspense novels.

The setting is an evocative and authentic one. I spent my share of childhood holidays in a town called Coffin Bay which is on the same peninsula as Ortlepp’s fictional creation and I recognised many of the qualities she depicts. We get a sense of the town’s geography, including its heavy reliance on the sea for what it contributes to the local economy, and the people who make up the community. There are several nicely drawn characters who collectively remind us all that we should not rush to judgement based on first impressions. Of course this is in part to keep readers guessing about who to trust but there’s some natural and engaging character development too.

Strictly speaking RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE is a suspense novel rather than pure crime fiction but it is very readable and does set the heart beating quickly when things get dangerous for multiple characters. I always know I am completely hooked when I have an internal struggle between wanting to read to the end yet wanting to put the book down in case something horrid happens to someone I have come to care about. I suppose it’s the literary equivalent of watching a thrilling movie with your hands partly covering your eyes and it’s a great feeling.


AWW2016This is the 7th book I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progress, sign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Simon & Schuster [2016]
ISBN: 9781925030631
Length: 359 pages
Format: paperback

Review: RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE, Amanda Ortlepp

Synopsis (NetGalley)

Erin Travers is running away from her life and taking her two sons with her to a small town on the ruggedly beautiful Eyre Peninsula. The close-knit township is full of happy childhood memories for Erin, but the past never stays the same and she is bringing a whole lot of baggage with her.

When the peaceful community is disrupted by arson and theft, everyone has different  ideas about who is responsible. In a small town where lives are tangled too closely together, old grudges flare, fingers are pointed and secrets are unmasked.

Brimming with malice and threat, Running Against the Tide is about long-held prejudices and fractured relationships, and cements Amanda Ortlepp as one of Australia’s most compelling storytellers.

My Take

I’m in heaven. Another crime fiction title set in authentically in South Australia.
For most of this story you might think this book is on the very outer edge of the crime fiction genre, but its place is firmly established by the end.

Erin Travers takes her two sons away from Sydney and her abusive gambling addict husband to the fictitious town on Mallee Bay on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.  Her older son needs to find a job and teenaged Ryan will go to school. Ryan in particular finds the move away from his father hard and turns in on himself.

They move into a rented dilapidated weather board house next door to elderly oyster fisherman Jono and his wife Helen. Their friendship makes life bearable for Erin and through Helen she enters a painting in the local art competition, and Jono gives Mick some part time work on the oyster farm.

Then someone plants some iceberg roses in Erin’s back yard and things take a slightly sinister turn. Oysters go missing from the oyster farm and Ryan has a tough time settling in at school.

Another very readable story, and South Australian readers will love the setting.

My rating: 4.4

About the author.
RUNNING AGAINST THE TIDE is Amanada Ortlepp’s second novel.
Amanda Ortlepp is a marketing and communications professional who lives in Sydney. She was signed by Simon & Schuster Australia in a two-book deal. She lives in the Inner West of Sydney. Her first novel was CLAIMING NOAH.