Diana is an Australian aid worker, writing reports for a disaster relief organisation bereft of the kind of disaster that grabs attention. She reconnects with her illusive friend Petra in Jakarta and a story of power, corruption and loss unfolds, as Diana becomes embroiled in the lives of siblings Petra, Paul and Isaak. The siblings are haunted by the past, as the narrative weaves the sad circumstances of their childhood in with present day revelations. In a city where they are chauffeured to school through streets teeming with protestors and then home to an austere marble mansion, where they clearly connect more with their nanny—who secretly schools them in mythology and mysticism—than with either of their distant parents, the children lead a life of both privilege and pain. The merciless bullying of Petra by the cruel young Bill Desta foreshadows a greater threat that has both personal and global ramifications, as the running dogs of the title run wild. Lyrical descriptions clash with harsh imagery to evoke a world of extreme privilege set among that of poverty, fear and political upheaval, where privilege and wealth are not enough protection from familial secrets and shame. Running Dogs is a powerful and nuanced debut novel.
Portia Lindsay is a former bookseller who now works at the NSW Writers’ Centre. This review first appeared in the Feb/March issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine.