Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Somebody once described this debut book as a Rottweiler of a novel. How very true! Bergmoser is unputdownable. I read the book at a single sitting as I could not bear the suspense. I wanted to help the put-upon find resolution of their difficulties. Like the attack dog, he never lets go.
A simple drive into the country to satisfy an urge to know more about the Australian countryside and to understand himself better leads a young man to pick-up a young female hitchhiker. They get along well, until she directs him to a bush track that, in turn, leads them to a coven of monstrous families. Maggie’s reading of the situation allows her to appear relaxed while Simon is fearful and eventually attempts to escape. The men of the community hunt him as they would a wild pig.
Maggie uses her high intelligence when she, in turn, escapes. From then on, the actions of Maggie are best summed up in Tony Cavanaugh’s words: ‘Move over, Jack Reacher’. No grounds exist to claim that Maggie is a copy of Lee Child’s character, her ability to take command of sticky situations is comparable, her identification of a problem and her undeterred approach to achieving a resolution are characteristics she shares with her better-known ‘act-alike’. But Reacher is 196m tall and as broad as a barn door. Maggie is described as of “medium height and lean, …[with] shoulder-length black hair and wide dark eyes to match…she was extremely pretty” (22).
The villains have no redeeming characteristics and are meant to be that way. They revel in the sport of hunting down outsiders. Maggie’s assault on their kind and her escape, terrifying as it is, affronts their view of their own worth. This shifts the scene from the hovels in the forest to a lonely road and a long-forgotten service station. It leads to Frank and his world-hating, fourteen-year-old granddaughter Allie. Frank’s background is never explained but a hint of a life in the armed services especially as a Vietnam veteran is reasonable to assume. He is a grandfather whose “gentle swell of his post-fifty gut was threatening to stop being gentle pretty soon” (3-4). Allie is angry with life, specifically because her parents are splitting-up. Maggie limps in, badly injured. When Frank and customers Charlie and Delilah help her, a confrontation between the forces of evil and those of the just is set.
What follows is a thrilling continuation of the gut-wrenching, fiercely written tale that began in the forest, a tale that binds the reader line by line. Unspeakable actions are carried out by the villains, acts of courage deliver destruction to their ranks. How many villains were attacking the handful of heroes I could not ascertain during my reading as I was too wrapped up in the unfolding events. However, villains seemed to be in unending supply.
Maggie is given considerable strength through her vagueness. There’s nothing vague about her personality and the deliberate thought and intent she applies to her fearful task. But the author’s delivery of her is a sketch in pencil rather than a portrait in colour or charcoal. When she departs the story, we are hard-pressed to draw up an image of her as a human being. She makes an unforgettable contribution to the belief that justice and decency should prevail over egregious behaviour; the fruits of her actions lie scattered across the landscape at book’s end, but she, as the embodiment of a force, has faded.
To say that this is a great book is to denigrate it. It is explosive. The language is dynamic, the characters are adequately drawn and easily distinguishable. The exception lies with the villains who, apart from a small minority who have been selected to put a face to a featureless mass, are simply a mob who supply the numbers. Their presence is the author’s way of depicting overwhelming force.
Gabriel Bergmoser is a new face on the literary scene. I await impatiently the freshness of his next book.
By Gabriel Bergmoser