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Aussie Book Review: A Fatal Tide by Steve Sailah

In association with Random House Australia, I am delighted to form part of the A Fatal Tide Blog Tour and, in particular, wish to thank their publicity department for the invitation to participate.
Please be sure to visit An Adventure in Words where Susan kicked off the Blog Tour on 21 July by asking Steve Sailah a few questions about his work.  Once you’ve had your fill of my review, don’t forget to hop on over to Sam Still Reading who will continue the tour on 4 August.

My Rating:              4 / 5
Format:                   eGalley proof courtesy of Random House
                               Books
Publication Date:    1 August 2014
Category:               Crime & Mystery
ISBN:                      9780857984500
Publisher:               Random House Books Australia
Imprint:                   Bantam Australia
RRP:                      AU$32.99
Extent:                    336 pages


From the Cover

“A powerful novel set in Gallipoli, that’s part war-story and part mystery. ‘Amid Gallipoli’s slaughter he hunted a murderer . . .’

It is 1915 and Thomas Clare rues the day he and his best friend Snow went to war to solve the murder of his father.

The only clues – a hidden wartime document and the imprint of an army boot on the victim’s face – have led the pair from the safety of Queensland to the blood-soaked hills of Gallipoli.

Now not only are Thomas’s enemies on every side – from the Turkish troops bearing down on the Anzac lines, to the cold-blooded killer in his own trench – but as far away as London and Berlin.

For, unbeknown to Thomas, the path to murder began thirteen years earlier in Africa with the execution of Breaker Morant – and a secret that could change the course of history . . .“

Summary and Thoughts

“It’s the small, everyday details that are perhaps the most poignant – the men’s wonder at seeing snow fall for the first time, sneaking down to the sea to bathe and get rid of the body lice, the stench and flies near the rudimentary toilet pits, and the hated bully beef, onion and biscuit diet” – Stories from Gallipoli, Radio National, Anzac Day 2003

A former ABC foreign correspondent in New Delhi and Washington, Steve Sailah was also friend to several Gallipoli veterans.  In this, his debut adult historical fiction novel, Sailah draws on the multitude of emotional stories from those aging veterans he returned with to the old battlefields for the 75th Anniversary of the first ANZAC landing, bringing to life the vivid reality of time spent in the trenches, putting them into sharp perspective.
Queensland, 1915, we are introduced to Thomas Clare (Tom to his friends), son of Jack Clare, the strong and honest local policeman, along with Tom’s best friend “Snow” after a day out hunting.  As he and Snow make their way home, Tom’s thoughts venture to what is going on behind the closed doors of their neighbourhood.  He doesn’t have a mother, as Rose died four years back, when he was twelve but, from his thoughts, his pain is evident – “Thomas imagined a mother sewing, a father reading to a child in his lap, together around the hearth.  Once, he’d had something like that, when his ma was alive.”
It’s not long after we are into the novel, and have encountered that painful thought, that Tom discovers his father’s body and, needless to say, he is devastated.  First his mother, now his father!
For all intents and purposes, Jack Clare’s death is ruled a suicide but, when a Sergeant Griffin arrives to accompany Tom to the formal identification of Jack’s body, whilst not only being questioned on things he knows nothing about, he learns that Griffin also investigated the circumstances surrounding Rose’s death. But, he is also, later, alerted by the doctor, Ellen Wood, that perhaps Jack’s death was no suicide.
When Snow’s father Tubbie, a tracker, and whose friendship with Jack dates back to the war against the Boers, investigates the scene, not long afterwards handing Tom an old war time document that he had been asked to keep safe, it serves to raise further doubts as to the circumstances of Jack’s death, resulting in the two boys deciding that they’re going to enlist in the war in the hopes of catching a killer.
Lying about their ages and, naïve in their anticipation of getting the answers they need, they eventually ship out for Turkey with no idea of the atrocities they will encounter and the abominable conditions they are about to endure.  Thomas especially will need to overcome his demons when he realises that he treads a tenuous line between love and hate, fighting for the Mother Country and cold-blooded murder!
As we approach the centenary of the war in Gallipoli, Steve Sailah has given us a timely novel set within the trenches of Gallipoli, with fictional characters based on factual evidence.
One of the things I most liked about this novel was his depiction of the camaraderie amongst the diggers.  In what can only be described as the grimmest of conditions, they always managed to find humour to lighten the mood and, in a scene in which Tom goes looking for Snow and finds him halfway down a latrine, the exchange of banter which followed had me in a fit of giggles as, too, did Kingy’s good sense of humour whilst having been caught in a barrage of gunfire – “As I always say, there’s nuffin’ like a bog in a barrage … nearly fell in, I was havin’ so much fun”.
Even though our school history classes didn’t expand on the more gruesome aspects of war, as adults we have become well aware that life on the frontline isn’t a bed of roses so, you may wonder why I have focused more on the humour when this is in fact a war novel?
Sailah expertly weaves scenes of utter desolation, such as the gruesome remains of the Dardanelles battlefields and the stench of rotting corpses into the narrative and, although the narrative is not overburdened with these scenes, I so keenly felt like I was bearing witness to these events that if I didn’t focus on those moments of humour, I wouldn’t have gotten through the novel.
Another aspect that drew me in was the solid meaning of mateship that Sailah conveys to his readers, more especially between Snow and Tom, the bonds between one white boy and one black boy having been built whilst accompanying their fathers who worked and hunted together in the bush, as well as on their love of the adventures of Holmes and Watson.  Their humorous para-phrasing of these characters throughout the novel, along with all of Tom’s precious memories surely lend a sense of light-heartedness and hope to what could otherwise have been a dismal story. While it is indeed the mystery that drives the narrative as the reader ventures into those blood-soaked trenches with Tom and Snow as they come to realise that not everyone is on their side, it is their memories and humour that carry them through.
From Queensland to the Gallipoli Peninsula, Quinn’s Post, Pope’s Hill and beyond, Sailah’s use of third person narration has allowed him to give the reader an opportunity to be placed in the story as an investigator alongside Tom and Snow as he creates the immediacy of their time in the trenches and their search for a killer.  
Extremely insightful and well-written, with themes of mateship, patriotism, family, loss and ultimately hope, this is a well-researched story about Gallipoli that is not often heard from the point of view of a digger and Sailah’s keen eye for detail is so perfectly construed to the reader, that it leaves us in no doubt as to the reasons why our diggers arrived back disillusioned and suffering with PTSD.  Lest we forget.
I wish to thank Random House Books for providing me with an electronic galley proof of this novel.

A Little About the Author

Steve Sailah grew up in Melbourne where he was a newspaper reporter, before working in radio in Sydney and London. He worked for the ABC for 26 years, during which time he was an ABC foreign correspondent based in New Delhi and Washington.


He has won several journalism awards and has a Master of Arts from Macquarie University.

Steve loves motorcycling, sailing, writing and being a dad to three daughters in Sydney.
Don’t forget to go on over to Sam Still Reading on the 4th August for the next part of the tour.

2 thoughts on “Aussie Book Review: A Fatal Tide by Steve Sailah”

  1. What a fantastic review Marcia. So well written. You should be writing books yourself!! Thank you for mentioning An Adventure in Words in your post. It's been a pleasure meeting you through this blog tour. 🙂

  2. Thanks so much for your kind words Susan. Think I'll leave the writing of books to the experts though! Of course, you're very welcome – it wouldn't be a blog tour without the mention and it has been absolutely lovely chatting to you throughout. I look forward to more 🙂

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