The Attack is a tense thriller with Lord of the Flies undertones

  • The Attack, by Catherine Jinks. Text, $32.99.

Over the past three decades, Catherine Jinks has written over 40 novels and has proven her ability, not only to cross genres, but also to switch to adult fiction, after a stellar award-winning career writing for young adults.

Jinks latest novel, The Attack, is a tense thriller set on a small island off the Queensland coast, where Robyn Ayres lives as both caretaker and park ranger.

The island had been a leper colony, but is now a fairly basic camping and conference centre.

Nine leper huts have been transformed into cabins with deep verandahs and wide windows.

But the lack of modern facilities means bookings only come from school groups, religious groups and from "Vetnet".

Vetnet, run by a group of army veterans, book the island once a month for a six-day boot camp for groups of troubled teenage boys:

"Many were problem kids. Marginal kids. Kids with learning difficulties, behavioural issues, psychological disorders."

The novel begins with the arrival of the latest group and, to her horror, Robyn recognises one of the boys, who she had known as Aaron Rooney, but whose name is now Darren King.

Ten years ago, Robyn was a kindergarten teacher in Otford, a small town in western New South Wales.

Robyn is new to the school - new to the town - but she already knows about Aaron, aged six, and some of his problems before he arrives in her class.

His behaviour proves to be not only disruptive but also violent, unpredictable and at times dangerous.

Aaron's parents are separated and his fragile mother is in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with his policeman father.

However, it's Aaron's grandmother Joyce, the town matriarch, and her bullying cronies, who make Robyn's life a nightmare and drive her out of town and out of teaching.

The problems of her past have arrived on Robyn's island sanctuary and, while some of the teenage members of the boot camp wage a war of retribution against the adults in charge, Robyn tries to make sense of the mystery of Aaron/Darren.

At this point in the novel, the writing shifts gear; a thinly disguised novel for young adults moves into thriller mode, with a tense, brutal and terrifying climax.

Lord of the Flies becomes Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs.

The Attack is a vivid and complex exploration of small-town politics, manipulative families, damaged children and the possibility of redemption.

Jinks can certainly tell a good story.

This story A tense Lord of the Flies-style island thriller first appeared on The Canberra Times.