The art of the continuous action sequence in Fear is the Rider


Hands up if you’ve seen The Raid, Gareth Evans’ relentlessly fighty Indonesian police thriller from 2011? Most of you? Excellent. Because that’s what I’m going to use as the benchmark for the idea of ‘continuous action’ in this little piece.

For those of you who haven’t seen it: There are some policemen at the bottom of an apartment block. There are some bad dudes at the top of the apartment block. They fight. Pretty much solidly. For nearly two hours. It is exhausting to watch, but once you’ve clicked that the plot takes a back seat from about 20 minutes in, it’s just a case of admiring the ferocious energy on show. Making a film like this, with such narrowly defined parameters, with very little dialogue, with violence that occasionally borders on the poetic, was a risk. But it paid off hugely.

I had similar feelings while reading Fear is the Rider, Kenneth Cook’s rediscovered ‘Ozploitation’ novel from 1982, published by Text this month. The story is a simple one: a man and a woman meet by chance on a remote road in the outback. They have a drink in a local bar and go their separate ways. Hours later, the man stops his car for the woman, who sprints out of the bush and tells him to drive. Her pursuer, a wild, feral man, is determined to hunt them down. The ensuing chase makes up the majority of this fraught and dynamic novella.

Cook pulls off the difficult trick of keeping the continuous action going with aplomb. Unlike The Raid, the novel’s boundaries are open, with the outback providing a harsh theatre for the pursuit and conflict to unfold. Of course, in reality, the outback is as much of a prison as an apartment block; two hours outside in 50 degree heat can easily kill you. The violence is frequent and grisly, and the pursuer is never defined as anything other than a wild, malevolent force. It is this simplicity, the primal urges and frenetic pace, which make the book so successful and powerful, despite its small size.

Cook ends the ride with a chilling fact: more than 300 people a year in Australia go missing and are never heard of again. We are invited to think on the novel’s events in context of this. I wouldn’t advise thinking about it for too long, though. Despite its obvious pulp-influenced leanings, this is a fine addition to Cook’s bibliography which stands up alongside his more ‘literary’ offerings – honorary mentions to 1961 masterpiece Wake in Fright [also published by Text], and the wonderfully-titled short story collections The Killer Koala and Wombat Revenge. There are few writers who can pull off continuous action, though many have tried and failed (most Hollywood action films circa 2000 seem to have fallen into that trap). I’d thoroughly recommend Fear is the Rider to you, but not if you are about to drive hundreds of miles through the outback. Hands up if you’re doing that…?

Fear is the Rider is published 26 August by Text Publishing

9781925240856  p/b  £8.99

Post by Tom

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