The work of Aussie authors is beginning to crowd many a crime fiction lover’s bookshelf and eReader – and with names like Jane Harper, Chris Hammer and Helen FitzGerald in the mix, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Is there room for a wee one to squeeze in? If so, please make space for Gabriel Bergmoser!
This new kid on the block – he’s only 26 – has already made a name for himself as a scriptwriter, winning a prestigious award in the process. He’s also penned three YA thrillers but this is Bergmoser’s first foray into the world of adult crime fiction. Which comes as something of a surprise, as The Hunted is an assured piece of work that grips from the very first page.
The book opens with a short and snappy prologue featuring an unknown girl at the wheel of a vehicle. She’s driving through a bleak and arid landscape and it’s clear this isn’t a jolly little jaunt being made for the fun of it. She’s obviously injured, in pain and desperate. What’s brought her to this pretty pass?
Bergmoser sets out his stall early doors and it doesn’t take us long to get his measure. Here’s a writer who can conjure up a scene in a mere few sentences, making the settings so darn realistic you’ll be wiping off the imaginary dust from your palms and mopping a sweated brow as you frantically turn the page, and then another, and another – because every single chapter ends on a cliffhanger.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s set the scene. As the story proper begins we meet Frank, a loner who lives a solitary life in the back end of nowhere, Australia. He runs a gas station that sees very few customers and generally keeps himself to himself. He’s got no one to bother about and no one to bother him, and that suits him fine. Then an out-of-the-blue call from his son brings a visitor to shake things up a bit – Frank’s teenage granddaughter Allie is to stay for a while and neither she nor her grandad are too happy about the arrangement.
Still, they scrape along, hardly communicating, pointedly staying out of each other’s way. Until fate decides to have a bit of fun… Enter Charlie and Delilah, on a bit of a road trip to see the sights of Australia, who stop off to buy gas, something to eat and some cigarettes. They’re in the process of paying when an old station wagon comes hurtling onto the forecourt and an injured and near catatonic woman stumbles out of the driver’s door before collapsing on the ground. Bergmoser has just lit the blue touchpaper and what happens next will leave you gasping in horror and disbelief.
Who is the mystery woman? That question is swiftly followed by another – why are a bunch of near-feral folk looking for her? Don’t worry, both questions are answered, and answered comprehensively, as this story plays out. Be prepared for a visceral, bloody and shocking ride though, as The Hunted pulls no punches. Having said that, there are also nuanced scenes that allow the reader to take the foot off the gas for a moment or two and marvel at the world this author has created. Yes, things are decidedly off-kilter, but there’s a horrifying believability about it all that gives this novel its disturbing edge.
This thriller has already been snapped up by the movie makers and I’m sure it will make stunning cinema, meantime I suggest you grab a copy of The Hunted right away and let the imagination run riot.
Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 5 Stars