The Tally Stick

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Pub Date 18 Jan 2022 | Archive Date 18 Jan 2022

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Description

Lost in the wilderness: subjugation, survival, and the meaning of family

Up on the highway, the only evidence that the Chamberlains had ever been there was two smeared tire tracks in the mud leading into an almost undamaged screen of bushes and trees. No other cars passed that way until after dawn. By that time the tracks had been washed away by the heavy rain. After being in New Zealand for only five days, the English Chamberlain family had vanished into thin air. The date was 4 April 1978. In 2010 the remains of the eldest child are discovered in a remote part of the West Coast, showing he lived for four years after the family disappeared. Found alongside him are his father’s watch and what turns out to be a tally stick, a piece of scored wood marking items of debt. How had he survived and then died in such a way? Where is the rest of the family? And what is the meaning of the tally stick?

Lost in the wilderness: subjugation, survival, and the meaning of family

Up on the highway, the only evidence that the Chamberlains had ever been there was two smeared tire tracks in the mud leading...


Advance Praise

“There’s a steady relentlessness to the action in the bent fairy tale of Carl Nixon’s fourth novel … Nixon sketches in aspects of his characters’ lives deftly.” —Newsroom

“Carl Nixon is one of my favorite New Zealand writers. I love his stuff … This latest novel is very cinematic … I would place it firmly amongst what’s called a literature of unease … very ominous, very foreboding, it’s all about the atmosphere … The prose also does a really interesting thing with time, in that it lingers over instance … The writing is very powerful.” —Radio New Zealand


“There’s a steady relentlessness to the action in the bent fairy tale of Carl Nixon’s fourth novel … Nixon sketches in aspects of his characters’ lives deftly.” —Newsroom

“Carl Nixon is one of my...


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• Advance reader and digital reader copies

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ISBN 9781642860986
PRICE US$16.99 (USD)

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Average rating from 36 members


Featured Reviews

Thank you to Netgalley, World Editions, and the author for an ARC in exchange for an honest review of the book. This was a grabbing read that kept me turning the pages. However, I wouldn't call it a mystery. The novel starts with a terrible car crash; the writing is all-encompassing. I felt like I was in the car with the characters and felt their fear and dread. From that point on, it--in turns--is a survival story and a story of endurance. There is tension established in multiple ways: will the survivors ever be found? What happened to the one child whose remains are found in the beginning of the novel? Will the remaining family in England get any closure? I agree with some other reviewers that there could have been some better development regarding motives towards the end. I like the general open-ended nature of some of the plot lines, but found myself still left with a couple of "whys" that I would have liked to have had addressed. But otherwise, this was an emotional, visceral read that I would recommend for anyone interested in an intense, literary story of survival.

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From the outset with the car accident, you know this story is going to go places. As a former Kiwi (now defected across the ditch), I found the author’s writing evocative of the time and place - NZ in the late 70s, and as I read through, I could feel the bite of the sandflies, the bracing cold of the river water, the call of birds unknown in the dense and lush green bush. I could even picture Martha’s place, because it seems there’s quite a few as you drive around, particularly in the South Island. This story examines the 3 very different lives of children ‘rescued’ (you’ll see why that’s only lightly meant throughout the book) after a tragic car crash took the lives of their parents and youngest sister. How does one cope with such a change in life? Do you rebel, do you acquiesce, do you give up entirely? The phrase Stockholm Syndrome bounced around my brain in some parts. I found this very readable, descriptive writing to set the scene of isolation and desolation - or is it? I did have a few questions, mostly the father of Kate’s baby, but once I suspended belief in forest creatures, I continued on perfectly fine. I did admire the tenacity of the aunt in her frustratingly close search for her niece and nephews. Warning: contains death, child punishment as part of their harsh life. With thanks to the author (have a chocolate fish), NetGalley, and World Editions Publishers for an advance copy.

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Carl Nixon is an incredible ‘artist’ – powerful writing that paints a deep understanding of the New Zealand wilderness. The novel also takes you into the complexities of family, love & caring. It is a challenging novel that leaves you searching for an answer to the question ‘what if…’ Haunting and explosive as it tells the story of three children lost in the wilderness after a car accident and then being discovered by a devious couple. Highly recommended novel that will make you cry, make you laugh, and take your breath away. A very well earned five star read.

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New Zealand is my dream destination. I’ll go there any way I can, which in reality translates to being transported literally, so that was my main attractor with this book. The Chamberlain family though gets to visit NZ in real life, it’s 1978 and they relocate there for the most typical of reasons, a job. Just grabbed their four kids and went. And then, driving in a storm along the West Coast’s rough terrain, went off the road. The rain washed away their tracks and for all intents and purposes the family vanished off the face of the earth. With only one relative determined to look for them and even then only sporadically, logistics and finances being what they are, the Chamberlains would have stayed gone and forgotten but for the recently unearthed remains of their eldest child. Remains that show the boy has lived for several years past 1978. It’s a mystery, especially to the kids’ aunt who has failed to find them all those years ago, but there’ nothing to be done about it now, all these years later when she gets the news. Back in the day especially the land held its secrets close and the dense vegetation hid much like camouflage. If someone wanted to disappear or someone wanted someone to disappear, West Coast of New Zealand was as good of a place as any and in many respects superior to most to do so. It’s frightening really, like a nightmarish coin flip off the idyll of the off grid living. And it’s frightening to contemplate just how easily one’s life can go off track…about as easily as the car ca go off the road. That’s as much as I can say without giving away too much of the plot. So read for yourself to find out the meaning of the tally stick and the fates of the vanished Chamberlains. It’s a good story well told, heavy and emotionally charged and also good for an armchair trip to a far away place, albeit the darker side of it. A quick engaging read and a good introduction to a new to me author. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.

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Yikes! I definitely was not expecting this!!! Sometimes I like to judge a book by its cover, read nothing about a description and dive in blind. Well, I did just that with this novel and WHOA was I not prepared for what I just read. I borrowed this description from GoodReads : "Up on the highway, the only evidence that the Chamberlains had ever been there was two smeared tyre tracks in the mud leading into the almost undamaged screen of bushes and trees. No other cars passed that way until after dawn. By that time the tracks had been washed away by the heavy rain . . . It was a magic trick. After being in the country for only five days, the Chamberlain family had vanished into the air. The date was 4 April 1978. In 2010 the remains of the eldest Chamberlain child have been discovered in a remote part of the West Coast, showing he lived for four years after the family disappeared. Found alongside him are his father’s watch and what turns out to be a tally stick, a piece of wood scored across, marking items of debt. How had he survived and then died? Where was the rest of his family? And what is the meaning of the tally stick?" -- GOOD READS I absolutely love when a story is told from dual time periods and this novel is narrated exactly as such. Once I started reading, I was unable to put this book down. Be prepared to be on a wild ride filled with twists, turns, and deadly secrets! After I finished this novel, I was left thinking about it all day. If you love a good thriller, The Tally Stick is for you. Thank you Netgalley for providing me with the opportunity to read and review The Tally Stick prior to its release date.

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There's a slow drip feed of information in this story,that makes you keep turning the pages. Now you know what happens,you need to know how. It gets quite grim at times,but all fitting to the story. Genuine moments of "arghhh" before getting to the end. This works well over a few timelines,and with a minimal cast of characters.

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I enjoyed this book it was well written with good pacing/flow and well-developed characters. I read this fast I could not put it down with plenty of twists to keep me guessing, it was dark with vivid descriptions and I could not out it down. I am definitely going to be looking for more from this author, highly recommended.

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I went into The Tally Stick blind. Didn't know what I was getting into! What I loved most was the writing I believe! Like the way Nixon describes New Zealand is amazing! And the dark subject matter was very intriguing! The story goes back and forth in time, and from different people's points of view. Which I found to be so interesting! Overall I loved the book, the characters, the writing, the plot and ending! It all came together very nicely. Stayed up late just to finish and I'm so glad I did! Thank you NetGalley, World Editions and author for this great ebook copy!

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In 1978, a family move from the UK to New Zealand. They have a couple of weeks before the father has to start work, so they embark on a road trip around the South Island. Their family back in the UK don't know their route; this is the days before internet or mobile phones. One rainy night, driving down the rugged and isolated West Coast, the father loses control of the car and veers off a cliff. The parents are killed instantly but three children survive at least the initial impact. Over 30 years later, the oldest child's bones are recovered. But it's evident from their size that he must have lived for a further 3-4 years after the crash before dying. So where was he in the meantime? And what became of his siblings? There are a lot of things about this book that are very good. Carl Nixon’s prose is urgent and arresting. It lurches you immediately into the story and juggles the dual timeframes with ease. It has a strong sense of place. You care about the children and that gives the story a lot of tension. It's written with a clinical assurance that is relentless. I should warn you though that this book is very dark. I found it difficult to read about what happens to the children and you may too. There is also an act of cruelty to animals at one point so if that's a trigger for you, avoid this book. This isn’t the type of story that I normally enjoy but, that being said, this is a powerful, well-written book and I hope more people become aware of it. Many thanks to World Editions and NetGalley for kindly offering me an advanced reading copy of this title.

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An enthralling look at life in the "boondocks" of New Zealand in the 1970's. I found the beginning a bit difficult to get through - the accident, loss of family and the plight of the three orphans. The rapid switching back and forth across characters and timelines also took some getting used to. However, the finale was unexpected and the ending bitter-sweet. I was left with questions of what one does to survive and how our choices shape our world. Which of the children do I identify with? What is the significance of Katherine's change of name to Kat by the end... There's a lot to read into this story. A very good experience.

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The novel starts with a terrible car crash; the writing is all-encompassing. I felt like I was in the car with the characters and felt their fear and dread. From that point on, it--in turns--is a survival story and a story of endurance. There is tension established in multiple ways: will the survivors ever be found? What happened to the one child whose remains are found in the beginning of the novel? Will the remaining family in England get any closure?

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If you are looking for a very intriguing book, The Tally Stick is it. I really enjoyed the multiple point of views that the author gave us. I loved following the story of the abducted children and how each learned how to deal with the trauma that they had suffered. This story has quite a few triggers that the reader needs to be aware of. I really appreciated the point of view of the Aunt of the missing children. The fact that her whole life she is trying to find out what happened to her sisters family is very moving. Thank you for the opportunity to read a e-arc of this book.

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The Tally Stick by Carl Nixon The Chamberlain’s have arrived in New Zealand in April 1978 from England, John Chamberlain is starting a new job in a few weeks but first they decide to go on a driving holiday around New Zealand with Julia, his wife and their four children, Maurice, Katherine, Tommy and Emma the baby. Disaster strikes when John loses control of his car and they slip off the highway plunge into a ravine. The three elder children somehow survive the crash. Thirty years later the bones of Maurice are found, what happened to the other children? I enjoyed this book very much. It is beautifully written and I could not put it down until I found out what happened to the three surviving children. I would like to thank Net Galley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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The Tally Stick is the first book I've read by New Zealand author Carl Nixon and I'm very impressed. In 1978 the Chamberlain family, John, Julia and their 4 children,emigrate to New Zealand , where John is due to start a high-flying job with BP. With a few days to spare before John starts his new job in Wellington the family decide to hop on a ferry and explore the beautiful South Island of New Zealand. Then,.....they disappear. 30 years later the remains of the eldest child, Maurice,are found in a remote coastal area along with his Dad's watch and a strange notched stick. I'm not sure what I was expecting from this book but certainly not what it turned out to be. It shows a side of New Zealand you'll never read about in the tourist guides, the virtual ghost towns left when the coal mines closed and the disparate characters dropping off the radar and living in the bush anywhere they can find with a roof. Into this environment comes Julia's sister Suzanne, determined to discover the family's fate.and making several visits over the years,first with her husband,then on her own. The style of the book reminded me very much of Carl Nixon's compatriot, J P Pomare, both authors use the New Zealand landscape almost as a major character in their books, if you've ever been there you'll know that the land is seen as very much more than "scenery" or "just a place" and that connection features in both author's books.. This is definitely something a bit different, I loved it and will read more of Carl Nixon's work.

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I would like to thank Netgalley and World Editions for an advance copy of The Tally Stick, a stand-alone novel set in the West Coast, New Zealand in 1978 and London in 2010. In 1978 the Chamberlain family disappears while touring New Zealand. In 2010 Mrs Chamberlain’s sister, Suzanne, is notified that Maurice Chamberlain’s bones have been found and indicate that he survived for four years after his disappearance. I have rated this novel at 4* for the powerful writing and evocation of place and situation. I did not like the content as it is too far out of my comfort zone. This is not really a crime novel, more a story of survival, how to cope with it and the choices people make to survive. I couldn’t identify with these children (their parents died in a car crash) and thus found it hard to swallow what happened to them. I did like the 2010 scenes with Suzanne as she confronts the mystery of what happened to her family and looks back over the years to her search for her family. This seems real and natural. The novel is compulsive in its storytelling. It is dark from the start so there is a sense of impending doom hanging over it, reinforced by the discovery of Maurice’s bones, the fact that he survived for four years and the artefacts found with him. This is not a pleasant read so it was as fast as I could finish it. At the same time the author paints a strong picture of the wild (in more than one sense), rural landscape. Its forbidding, inaccessible description adds to the dark cruelty of the novel. The Tally Stick is a powerful piece of writing, whose content simply didn’t appeal to me.

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As distressing as the opening chapter of The Tally Stick was, I was unable to tear myself away from it, such was the intensity of the storyline. The date is 4th April 1978, and the Chamberlain family ( Mum, Dad, and four kids) had only been in New Zealand for five days. They’d left behind their lives in London after the father John was offered a job in Wellington. On the day in question, they set off on a road trip to explore South Island before John’s start date, and, according to the local press, simply vanished into thin air. Fast forward to 2010, and the remains of the eldest child Maurice were discovered, with forensics showing that he’d lived for around another four years after their disappearance! Where had he been, and where were the others? Had they survived? It would be too easy to give away some snippet of the storyline that would spoil it for those intending to read The Tally Stick, so I deliberately aren’t saying much about it. However, I simply had to find out what had happened to the Chamberlain’s, and this wonderfully atmospheric and beautifully written novel took me on a journey to do just that, a journey to the West Coast of New Zealand, a journey that was full of mystery and intrigue, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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One of my favourite stories. Really unusual, not like anything I’ve ever read before. It keeps you interested right to the very end. Really well written and really well told.

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It begins with a bang, literally. It's 1978 and you're in the car on an uncharted New Zealand adventure that goes horribly awry when the Dad at the wheel misjudges, and the family of 6 is forever changed. This is no spoiler since it takes place within the opening pages. How the survivors manage forms the basis of this truly original novel that is not really a mystery, but an examination of survival, love and debt. In fact, the title references the obligation. Back in London in 2010, the mother's sister had never really given up hope that there was a chance there were survivors, and her trips back to the rough unsettled South Island where the final sighting of the doomed family occurred, cost her dearly. There is so much more to this book than I am willing to share, since Carl Nixon did such a wonderful job of setting up and spooling out the proceedings. This is the first of his books I've read, but definitely not the last.

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Thanks to NetGalley and World Editions for The Tally Stick ARC in return for an honest review. This was an intense literary novel. The author, Carl Nixon, grabs the reader emotionally from the first page with feelings of apprehension and dread. The writing is descriptive and chilling with an ominous, foreboding atmosphere. This sad, powerful story conveys the damp forests and cliffs along the west coast of New Zealand, the mud, rain, cliffs, cold rivers, little sunshine, and less hope. I admire the author's skill in establishing a mood of unease and despair, but reading this was an uncomfortable experience. The characters were well-developed and memorable. It is a story of trauma, endurance, child abuse and neglect, denial, the killing of animals, harsh punishments, and lack of essential medical care. It centers around the plight of three children, two boys and a girl, who survived with injuries after their parents and baby sister were killed in a terrible car accident in 1978. The car went over a cliff and into a river in an isolated wooded area. The family had only arrived in New Zealand five days earlier, and the father was to be employed in Wellington. They were on an automobile tour of their new country. The fate of the family was unknown. An aunt came to New Zealand several times over the years trying to find out the family's fate and whether any of the children survived. About 30 years later, the older boy's body was discovered, and forensic evidence showed that he had survived for four years after the crash. Where had he been, and what was the fate of his brother and sister? What was the meaning of the tally stick found with his body? We learn that the two boys and the girl were found and taken in by a sleazy couple who treated them as captives and servants. They lived off-the-grid in a remote area. What was their life like? There was little joy or resolution here, just an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. New Zealand is one of the most scenic, beautiful countries on earth, and I wish some of that had been mentioned for contrast.

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Thank you Netgalley for a copy of "The Tally Stick" by Carl Nixon. The Tally Stick is a dark story and not for the feignt of heart to be sure. It's the story of a family whose lives are traumatically altered by an automobile accident just as they are preparing to start a new life in New Zealand.  All traces of the family ,their car and the tire tracks leaving the Cliffside are erased by the Falling rain and five souls are lost without a trace. After twenty-plus years the skeleton of one of the children is found alongside the tallystick. The Bones reveal that at least he survived the accident and the wilds of the deep forest for four years after but how and what is the meaning of the talleystick? How he survives,the objects meaning and much more are revealed throughout this suspenseful psychological thriller at times with moments of kindness and caring and other times violent and disturbing. Be forewarned that much of the story is layered with emotionally jarring events that will shock and dismay but these elements are warranted as being key to the storyline and are written gingerly so as not to be gratuitous or overly graphic. Nixons prose is steady, riveting and will carry you easily and swiftly through its twists and turns to an ending that comes before you know it and leaves you in unnerved and in contemplation long after you've finished the 287th page. If you can handle the instances of unsettling taboo I urge you to give a read to this well written little book of suspense.

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Carl Nixon is an engaging writer! This book will tether you to your chair and not permit you to finish any chore, until you ultimately finish reading it. I read some reviews that said they would have liked more closure. I understand the reason they felt that way. But, closure is subjective and in my opinion, there was closure for some characters and not for others. I won’t go into any more detail on that subject, as I will then have to add spoilers. Riveting, heart wrenching, heart pumping. Thank you NetGalley and World Additions for the opportunity to read and review this wonderfully written novel.

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This was a good book, but I wouldn't categorize it as a mystery- it was more of a survival or even coming-of-age story. It centers on 3 of the 4 kids from the Chamberlain family who survive a car accident in a remote part of New Zealand in the late 1970s. There are also chapters told from the POV of their aunt Suzanne, who never gave up hope after the family disappeared. The thing that stood out most to me throughout the book were the detailed descriptions of what was going around around them, which transported me there and helped me to feel what they were feeling. The author also did a great job of demonstrating the various lengths that different people will go to in order to survive. That being said, it also left me with some unanswered questions, and I walked away from the story feeling that not a lot actually happened, though it was engaging the whole way through. The ultimate fate of some of the characters was just plain sad and will definitely stick with me. Overall, it was an interesting book and a bit of a divergence from what I normally read, but I'm glad I picked it up. If you are looking for a creepy read (as I thought the synopsis alluded to) this isn't it, but it's a good read nonetheless. Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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The Tally Stick is a dark and gripping novel where the landscape—the hostile and tangled forests and waterways of mountainous New Zealand—is practically a character: call it New Zealand noir, if you like. It is focused upon the obligations we have to other people, both inside and outside families. These obligations are viewed through the lens of the loss of the Chamberlain family of six in an 1978 accident shortly after they relocated to Wellington from England. Only some members of the family survive, and the novel's name comes from the debt they owe their rescuers. It invites you to question, do you owe people who help you a debt? The novel oscillates between the perspective of the surviving children (Maurice, Katherine and Thomas) and their Aunt Suzanne in England who repays her own debt to family by travelling to look for them on four occasions. There's also a class element in the novel, between the British characters and the New Zealanders they encounter. At one point, Suzanne describes the deceased father as "habitually privileged, with no idea that life had handed him roses on the day he was born." Maurice follows in his footsteps (right off the cliff) in the novel, while Katherine/Kate/Kat assimilates into her new environment: "What terrified her was that he'd actually succeed in finding a town. Then strangers really would come. They'd force her to leave the valley. She knew it wouldn't make any difference if she said she wanted to stay with Martha." While you morality about what should happen after an accident might make you side with Maurice, the way Katherine/Kate/Kat is painted makes you sympathetic to her point of view. The Tally Stick is also about race, though not really as you'd perhaps expect, between New Zealand's Māori people and the British colonisers they made a treaty with. Race comes up when Suzanne, the matriarch of the British family who have been impacted by the accident, thinks of her Ethiopian-born grandsons' shocking blackness: "Their feet intrigued her the most. She often wrapped her hands around them, caressing with her thumbs the tops of their toes, at the line where where the pink skin of their soles ended, as if she might be able to feel the exact place, a ridge, where the black began." It's quite an awkward scene, with author Carl Nixon letting you feel the full weight of discomfort at her reaction to the children, and align that with your sympathy for her on the loss of her sister, niece and nephews. While I read this short (286 page) novel in just three sittings so clearly enjoyed it, I will say the plot unravels a bit at the end. I felt like there were some loose ends I would have liked the author to tie up, including how Katherine/Kate/Kat got pregnant in the first place, and what happened when her captors/new family found out. All we got was a low-key rape description that seemingly took place in the spiritual world, then it jumped to her carrying a baby. I felt frustrated that I was not told more.

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A good thriller, a gripping read that I enjoyed. A story of survival. The story worked well over a few different timelines.

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Wow, this book is unputdownable! Readers will be completely captivated, reading aggressively to figure out what happened to these three children and their Aunt! Moreover, it is impressive how each child responds differently to their situation. Add to the intrigue a wild New Zealand setting and you have a 5 star read all the way! Put this in the hands of true-crime lovers, readers of James Patterson, Dean Kootz, and C.J. Box.

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In 1978, a family moves from the UK to New Zealand as the father is about to begin a new job. One rainy night, the father loses control of the car, sending it and his family inside off a cliff into a river below.. The parents are killed instantly, leaving the children alive and alone in an unknown land. One of the boys' remains are found years later. Tests reveal that he lived several years after the crash. What happened to him during this time? What happened to his siblings? These are questions this book answers flip-flopping back and forth between past and present times. This book was dark and engaging. I found myself unable to put it down at times. With that being said, I felt the ending felt a bit rushed and there were several loose ends that were never explained. Overall, it was a decent read. Of note, there are several themes that may be triggering to some readers including child abuse, animal abuse, and rape of a child. Thank you to Netgalley, World Editions, and the author for an ARC in exchange for an honest review of the book.

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The tally stick is a roadmap for every parent's worst nightmare. A new beginning for a young family turns into an accident on a slippery road. There are some experiences a child should never have. And yet, there they are , lost in the wilderness. Without giving away the story,it was a gripping read and it didnt take me more than 3 hours to finish it. The story flows smoothly and the language is easy. I would have liked more closure in the end but ,unrealistically, the ending fits the story. A good read.

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Hauntingly interesting. Right at the onset, the reader is hooked into the plot. With their parents and baby sister dead, how do the three children survive? Given the information of finding one child's bones the events that lead up to the death of someone who was assumed dead but did in fact live for a few more years is a tale of trauma, survival and perhaps a bit of delusion as well. Very well written and kept me hooked from start to finish.

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The Tally Stick was unexpected. I like a good thriller, and in that aspect was not disappointed. The author weaves an intricate tale. I was drawn in and compelled to read to the end. The story begins with the discovery of the death of a young man who had gone missing many years before. This book delves into what happened to that boy and his family when they disappeared. It is an explanation of one possible outcome of what might happen when people vanish. New Zealand is a fine setting for this thriller. That being said, this book was not for me. The treatment of the children and the discouragement of loss had me putting the book down, and the returning to it later. I was waiting for something redemptive in the story, and that never came for me. The author is a fantastic writer and kept my attention, but I had hoped for some sort of closure, and that was not forthcoming. A copy of The Tally Stick was provided to me by NetGalley and World Editions for an honest review.

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