Not much daylight left now…
So begins the field diary of Alix Verhoeven, whose impulsive acceptance of an offer to spend Easter on a remote island with an old acquaintance has turned into a terrifying ordeal. Hiding in a tiny cave, she carefully rations out her meagre supplies, while desperately trying to figure out how to escape the men hunting her. She is determined not to be a victim.
What do they want with her? She knows it’s nothing good – she overheard enough on that first night to flee. But now she’s got little food or water, no way of calling for help, and only her skills as an exploration geologist and memories of Atkinson’s Guide to Bushcraft to survive.
By day she is disciplined and lives by strict plans, but at night she finds herself haunted by questions about her life that she never wanted to face, and slowly this begins to unravel her.
With time running out, she is forced to take tremendous risks in order to stand even the slightest chance of getting away.
It’s been a while since I cracked open a proper, edge-of-your-seat thriller. So, I had high expectations for Elizabeth Flann’s debut, Beware of Dogs, winner of HarperCollins’ 2019 Banjo Prize for fiction. I was not disappointed. Beware of Dogs is a fast-paced and absorbing read, and an almost unbearably tense Australian survival thriller – think Cast Away meets Wake in Fright.
From the opening lines, I was hooked. Several questions kept me turning the pages: who is chasing her? And how on earth is she going to make it out alive? Slowly, through Alix’s field diary and a series of flashbacks, these questions and more are revealed, and in the confines of her makeshift hideaway we learn more about Alix and how she came to be in this dark, cramped cave running for her life.
As much as the novel is a tightly plotted and propulsive tale of survival, it’s also a story of belonging. Born in the Netherlands, raised in Madagascar, and later England, before finally moving to Australia, Alix has always felt adrift and unable to fit in. This inner conflict, told through a series of flashbacks, is just as fascinating to follow as Alix’s quest for survival, and gives depth to an otherwise action-packed and terrifying thriller.
Intense, gripping and impossible to put down, Beware of Dogs is an unsettling and addictive page-turner with an intelligent and capable female protagonist at its centre. I doubt I’ll be rushing off to any island vacations after reading this. I will, however, be keenly looking out for whatever Elizabeth Flann delivers next.