from the editor's desk

Review of ‘Wild Dogs’ by Michael Trant

Trant, Michael. Wild Dogs. Penguin Books Australia, 2022. RRP: $32.99, 368pp, ISBN: 9781761046773.

Jen Bowden

There is something about the landscape of rural Western Australia that makes it the perfect setting for a gritty action thriller. Yet few have utilised the seemingly endless red-dirt roads and sun-scorched desert to as great effect as WA author Michael Trant.

Wild Dogs is Trant’s second novel—his debut Ridgeview Station was published by Allen & Unwin in 2017—and the first of a two-book deal he recently secured with publishing giants Penguin. It’s little wonder they snapped him up. Wild Dogs follows ageing dogger Gabe Ahern as he stumbles across the attempted execution of a young Afghan man, Amin, while out trapping—you guessed it—wild dogs for local station owners. Gabe soon finds himself being hunted by a gang of people smugglers, who will stop at nothing to get rid of both him and Amin.

The plot isn’t at all unusual for a thriller and features the usual twists and turns that you’d expect from a straight-up, no-nonsense tale of action and criminal misdeeds. But Trant really shows his hand as a skilled writer of fiction, weaving a nuanced and complex exploration of deeper issues into the narrative. The plight of refugees, grief, family, guilt, community and alcoholism all feature heavily in Wild Dogs, resulting in a tale that is pacy yet thought-provoking.

Trant’s understanding of, and love for, the Western Australian outback is clear from the very first pages of Wild Dogs. Country is a character in itself, not just a convenient setting for the action that unfolds, and his depiction of the desolation of a dry season drought is expertly crafted.

Country cried out for a drink, and bare dirt greeted his eyes all through this area, the carpet of red broken by poverty bush and mulga trees doggedly hanging on. Any other palatable shrubbery had been eaten down to woody stumps by what stock was left. He’d passed a small mob of sheep shortly after leaving the homestead, all hips and ribs (4)

Gabe, the old dogger at the centre of the story, is at home here. He’s almost nomadic in his existence, living out of his LandCruiser, the ‘driver’s side for living, passenger side for working, and the two never mixed’ (15). Gabe exists within this bare land and it suits him, though he seems like he’s constantly on the run from himself and the past that haunts him. But he still has this inherent connection to the land he lives and works on that is almost a kind of love. He observes,

The wildflowers were spectacular—when it rained, that is. And it’s a well-known fact that red dust tends to get into everything, including your blood. (9)

Gabe’s connection to the land is one of reverence and respect, though also one of frustration and reluctant admiration. His relationship with Country is depicted as similar to a relationship between husband and wife, and it is that strength of connection that keeps him there.

One of the most endearing things about Gabe’s character is his dry wit. Wild Dogs is peppered with a sharp sense of humour which brings a lightness to the novel that is both original and entertaining.

‘Look here mate,’ [Gabe] growled. ‘I just saved your skin, and I’ve got no idea what is going on here, but you point that fuckin’ thing at me again I’ll jam it so far up your arse you’ll be shitting bullets for a week.’ (37)

Rather than seem superfluous and out of place in a gritty action thriller, the subtle injections of humour only enhance the characterisation of Gabe, and later Darren and Courtney.

Similarly, there is an inherent skill in the way Trant uses the events that unfold in Wild Dogs to ask some very pertinent questions about current issues. Amin, as a refugee, opens Gabe’s eyes to the fact that world events can impact him, even out in the WA outback.

Up until a few days ago, [Gabe] never gave much thought to refugees or wars and was of the opinion that they should keep their shitty problems confined to their own shitty countries. Not his problem. Only now it was, and Amin raised a good point. What were they going to do once they located his family? (202)

Though Gabe tries to bury his head in the sand and let on that the wider world doesn’t impact him, his meeting with Amin, and everything that happens after, reveal just how the outside world can work its way into his life.

Wild Dogs is a thrilling tour-de-force of crime, action and drama, but underneath all that runs a subtle look at our sense of humanity, the plight of our fellow humans and the ways grief and guilt can affect even the toughest of us. It is an engaging, pacy and masterful novel that really showcases the wildness of the beautiful west.

Jen is a writer and journalist based in Perth. She lived and worked in Edinburgh, Scotland for ten years and has written for a number of UK newspapers and magazines including The ListThe Guardian and The Scotsman. She previously worked for Scoop Events and in the marketing team at Fremantle Press, and is now a freelance writer and editor.

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