Australian Leigh’s capable, disquieting debut is an homage of sorts to Moby Dick as an accomplished killer coolly stalks his prey—a Tasmanian tiger that’s the last of its breed—but is rattled when long-dormant emotions are stirred by a fractured family he encounters.
Arriving incognito at the edge of the Tasmanian bush to begin his hunt, the cold fish known as “M” immediately encounters a distraction from his mission. Two unrestrained children, a girl and her younger brother, are the welcoming committee in the house where he’s to stay between forays into the wilderness, their mother in a drugged stupor from mourning her scientist husband, who vanished months before in the same area where M will go. At first M has no time for the kids and tackles his assignment—to find and kill the tiger in order to retrieve genetic material and body parts for a biotech outfit—with the icy calm of a perfectionist, trapping and shooting and skinning creatures as it suits him. As time passes, however, his target remains elusive, and visits to base camp expose him further to each member of the family, with the result that he becomes more involved in their lives and aware of their needs. Called away on another mission without having bagged his cat, M returns after some weeks to finish the job, actually anticipating his reunion with the family. But he finds only an empty house and a trail of tragedy. Hopes of human intimacy, flawed though it might have been, now dashed, he resumes his cold-blooded ways in competition with park rangers who are also in search of the tiger, until the moment he has so long awaited arrives.
Not exactly a tale of redemption, and in fact the pervasive bleakness and chilling details of the hunt flatten the dimensions of the story somewhat, but within its obsessive vision there is power, raw and formidable. A writer to watch.