(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A red-carpet junket providing luxurious relaxation for five women while their business-executive husbands attend meetings turns to chaos when a local general ignites a military coup. To escape violence and probable death, the women flee deep into the jungle, accompanied only by Jonathan, the captain of their pleasure boat.

During the long months of the rainy season, they try--and try again--to build a vessel that will carry them to safety. After enduring more perils than Pauline, fate shocks the women with the most taboo act of all, the eating of raw human flesh.

For her survival saga, Shirley Conran has drawn women whose polished talents in seduction, domesticity, and child rearing make them poor prospects for primitive living. Jonathan can teach them wilderness skills, including thirteen ways to kill a man, but he cannot teach them grit and determination. Slowly and painfully, the women build the emotional stamina to take responsibility for their survival.

Meanwhile, seventy miles away in civilization, hardly anyone believes that the women could still be alive. Only one man pieces together enough fragments of evidence to believe that neither sharks nor cannibals consumed the five women. His suspenseful quest vividly emphasizes the plight of the survivors camouflaged by the jungle’s dense canopy. Conran, the author of LACE and LACE II, turns from the romance genre to tales of shipwrecks and castaways. In the tradition of ALIVE, Piers Paul Read’s account of an airplane crash in the Andes, SAVAGES sets a group of virtual strangers in a place of appalling harshness and depicts the inevitable disintegration of civilities and decorum. As depression and enervation take hold, options shrink and choices are starkly measured against a life-or-death standard.

SAVAGES, already planned as a television miniseries, exhibits Conran’s considerable research into terrain, survival skills, and contemporary life on a barely developed island. Because Conran initially portrays each woman in her normal surroundings, one’s sympathies are engaged, and their fate compels one to keep the pages turning.