Title: Beware of Dogs
Author: Elizabeth Flann
Published: January 6th 2021
Publisher: HarperCollins Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Suspense
Rating: 5 stars
Winner of the 2019 Banjo Prize for Fiction
She’s isolated. Trapped. Hunted. An almost unbearably tense Australian survival thriller.
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 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 Bushcraft Guide 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 has never wanted to face.
And her time is running out.
‘I’m on the island of bad dreams. Please find me.’
Upon reading the opening page of the winner of the 2019 Banjo Prize for Fiction, Beware of Dogs, I clearly understood why this highly original book was selected as the recipient of this coveted award. A death-defying thrill ride awaits the reader as soon as they crack open the spine of Elizabeth Flann’s debut novel. Never have I encountered such an utterly gripping and white knuckled story, that kept me glued to my reading chair.
At the centre of Elizabeth Flann’s debut offering is a Alix Verhoeven, a woman with a successful career but a broken personal life. When Alix impulsively accepts an invitation to visit a remote island off Australia’s shores, she gets much more than she bargained for. This relaxing getaway morphs into a horrific fight for survival, as Alix takes refuge in a cave shelter, trying to stay alive and outwit the men who are hunting her. Alix is a fighter and she is determined to overcome this terrible ordeal. Alix must draw on her personal resolve and skills set as a geologist to make a plan of escape. In this abhorrent situation, Alix manages to rise above her extenuating circumstances. Alix has a plan, but can she survive long enough to save her life?
I have to admit that I was perplexed by Beware of Dogs to start off with. It seemed to have an odd title and I’m not sure how the title was connected to the blurb I was offered. It is always risky taking a chance on a new author, but as this was the 2019 Banjo Prize Winner for fiction, Elizabeth Flann’s novel caught my interest. I’m glad that I took a chance on Beware of Dogs, despite some initial trepidation, as it proved its weight in gold.
I appreciated the structure of this novel. The prose has a literary tinge, but Beware of Dogs falls easily into the thriller and suspense genre, with some accompanying crime elements. Over seventeen gripping chapters and an aftermath, the reader rolls along with Alix as she relays her survival story. Each chapter is headed by a significant quote from the King James Bible, the Atkinson’s Guide and student magazine excepts. These openers enable the reader to get to grips with the oncoming turn of events. Interlinked with Alix’s astounding first hand experiences and her routine diary entries are flashbacks to poignant memories from the past. In these sequences Alix reflects on her tragic family history, career highs, friendships, marriage and relationship breakdown. The tone our chief narrator takes is reflective and regretful. There is also the sense that Alix is not quite done with her time on earth, if she manages to survival this ordeal.
What urged me to turn page after page at high velocity was a number of factors. Firstly, I developed a strong connection to Alix, she was a complex and layered character. I enjoyed the drip feed style of Alix’s accomplishments, it absolutely gripped me. I admired Alix’s tenacity, determination, inner strength and ingenuity. Alix’s background knowledge of bush survival techniques left me in awe, it was definitely a learning process for me! I cheered Alix on the whole way and I rooted for her cause. I had high hopes that Alix triumph over adversity and make it off the island alive. Another reason why I remained completely stuck to this novel was the strong sense of intrigue and danger. I wondered how such a clever woman managed to get herself in such a terrible and unbreaking bind to begin with. I desperately wanted to know if Alix made it out the other side. Above all, I hoped that the horrible men hunting Alix would be held to account for their actions. The mystery surrounding why these men were hell bent on taking Alix to this island and silencing her by any means possible aided my swift response to this book.
On another note, I thought the sense of place was captured incredibly well by Elizabeth Flann, despite that it clearly states in the Author’s Note that the central island stage of Beware of Dogs is a fictional representation. From the specific localised fauna and fauna, to the rocky faces and deep waters, the strong images conjured by Flann’s generous prose helped place me as the reader right next to Alix in her tough fight for survival.
With themes of sorrow, contemplation, fear, retribution, crime, family experiences, communication, marital breakdown, career, ambition, friendships, dark web crime, violence, murder, abuse and suppression, Beware of Dogs does take a sinister route. However, the rich and unique story that emerges from the fog of darkness is well worth these trying elements. Five stars from me.
Beware of Dogs by Elizabeth Flann was published on 6th January 2021 by HarperCollins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Beware of Dogs, Elizabeth Flann visit here.
Beware of Dogs is book #3 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge