The Hunted by Gabriel Bergmoser

Published by Faber & Faber

SOMETIMES a reader needs to mix things up. If you’re a historical fiction devotee, why not try a hard-boiled detective novel? Is science fiction your preference? How about giving magical realism a go? Do you like autobiographies? Maybe a venture into ‘women’s fiction’ could get you out of your comfort zone.

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of fiction written by women, and new Irish writing at that. The time was right to try something new, so I picked up The Hunted, the debut novel by Gabriel Bergmoser. A definite departure from my recent reading habits, but a palate cleanser it is not.

Set in the Australian wilderness, the prologue introduces us to a woman caked in mud and blood, putting the pedal to the metal in a banged up station wagon. One eye on the road and one on the rear-view mirror, we can only read on in haste to discover who, or what, she’s running from.

Next we know we’re seeing things from the point of view of Frank, a grandfather in his fifties who has been reluctantly tasked with looking after his son’s teenage daughter for a few weeks. He lives in a humble abode not far from his roadhouse; a garage and service station located in the middle of nowhere, a place for drivers to re-fuel both vehicle and body on their way to somewhere else.

It’s business as usual at the roadhouse; slow and boring, just how Frank likes it. An English couple roles up looking for some petrol and a burger, which Frank duly prepares. All’s just peachy, if a bit strained by Frank’s reticence, until the station wagon screeches up outside and the blood and mud-caked woman tumbles out of it.

Needless to say, chaos ensues. Flashbacks document how Maggie, the station-wagon girl, got in to her unimaginably grisly predicament, beginning with seducing a young man named Simon, who’s been embarking on a solo road-trip, into hitching a ride with him. In his station wagon. Dun-dun-duuuuun.

The Hunted is fast-paced from the off, but peppered with well-timed pauses. Frank is introduced directly after waking up with a yelp from a bad dream, and his slow pace of life juxtaposes with Maggie’s desperate escape from her predators.

When Frank’s self-imposed hermitic lifestyle is yanked from beneath him with the arrival of Maggie’s hunters, the pace only accelerates. Quick thinking and sharp wits are the only thing that will get them all out of the mess Maggie has brought with her, and any missteps – of which there are many from the less street smart of the gang – could lead to gruesome death.

And gruesome is definitely the word. The place from where Maggie is running from is nothing short of the stuff of nightmares. When she asks Simon to go off the beaten track, little do they know that the ramshackle town they happen upon deep in the bush would house a cohort of men, of murderous intent.

But when I say little do they know, I mean the shotgun holding, gap-toothed grimacing, snarling dog wielding gang they’re introduced to should probably have been the red flag they needed to get the hell out of there. The thought process is that even a polite refusal of a room for the night could be interpreted as a hostile attack, so stay there they do, to their deep, deep regret.

The Hunted is not for the faint hearted. It’s a no holds barred violent thriller, that would have had me averting my times countless times if it were a movie (which it will soon be; its rights have already been optioned). It’s frankly horrible in places, and sometimes gratuitously extreme, and there’s a very clear good and bad side to root for, with the hope that you won’t mind too much when one of the enemies is brutally disposed of.

It’s very definitely a thriller, and does that job well. It’s also well written, with each character seeming distinct and well-rounded. There are some droll observations and witty asides, and the long conclusion will have you reading well into the night to see what happens.

If you’re looking for an alternative to Marian Keyes this isn’t it. But if you’re in search of a page-turner that you’ll get through in one or two sittings, this one could be for you.

First published in The Tuam Herald on 26.08.20

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