Set in the unforgiving landscape of the Queensland outback, The Lost Man is a cracking page-turner that explores the psychology of abuse and the desire for retribution. Simon McDonald reviews Jane Harper’s stunning new crime novel.
The Dry was a transcendent work for Australian crime fiction, ushering in a new Golden Age for the genre. Its sequel, Force of Nature, vindicated those early accolades, proving that Jane Harper has the ability to produce relentlessly fast-paced and beautifully structured mysteries that fully exploit the harsh Australian landscape. Delightfully, The Lost Man amply fulfils the promise of its predecessors and sets the bar even higher. The intimate betrayals that pockmark The Lost Man are nothing short of devastating.
Anyone who read The Dry will recall its scintillating opening salvo: blowflies buzzing around the corpses of the Hadler family. It hooked you immediately; compelled you to turn its pages, to understand how this moment came to pass. The beginning of The Lost Man is just as gripping — Cameron Bright, baking under the Queensland desert sun, crawling desperately to catch the shadow cast from the stockman’s grave, a long-standing manmade landmark; the only one for miles. When we next see Cameron, he’s dead; stared down upon by his two brothers, whose anguish over his death is overridden by a desire to know how this happened. Men and women in their line of work are survivors: they have to be. Conditioned to the tempestuous weather, accustomed to the isolation, it seems unlikely Cameron found himself alone in the middle of nowhere by accident. So was it suicide? Or did something — or someone — lead Cameron to the stockman’s grave?
Jane Harper is brilliant at pulling away the surface of her characters to expose their deeper — and often ugly — layers. In scrutinising the weeks and months prior to Cameron’s death, each member of the Bright family are forced examine the underlying toxicity that exists between them, and confront their own demons. The visceral fears and hatreds lurking below the surface of every member of the Bright family are adroitly exposed, and demonstrate that anyone has the capacity to be a monster.
Simon McDonald reviews the sequel to Jane Harper's The Dry.
Jane Harper knows precisely how to grab a reader, draw him or her into the story, then slowly tighten her grip until escape is impossible. The Dry was a stylish, compulsive whodunnit, centred around a small rural town, and the unearthing of dark secrets from its present and past. It was a superbly riveting demonstration of intelligent crime writing, and its successor, Force of Nature, provides further proof: Jane Harper knows all there is to know about detonating the gut-level shocks of a great thriller.
The premise of Force of Nature is deceptively simple: five women head off into the bush on a corporate retreat, and only four come out the other side. The well-being of the missing bush walker, Alice Russell, is of particular interest to Federal Police agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper: she’s the whistle-blower in their latest case. Their honed cop instincts can’t believe it’s purely a coincidence that Russell has vanished on a trip organised by the corporation she is covertly helping to dismantle. So off they go, from Melbourne to the rugged terrain of the Giralang Ranges, determined to disentangle the mess of deceit, deception and suspicion formed between the remaining four women during their ill-fated hike.
There’s a distinct Liane Moriarty vibe to Force of Nature and the nature in which its plot uncoils, flitting between multiple perspectives, and the past and present; a little like Truly Madly Guilty, but with a sharper edge. Jane Harper’s brilliance in characterisation and evocative prose is on full display here, as she grants herself a large cast of characters to probe the psyche’s of, teasing the truth, dangling the explanation as to what actually happened to Alice Russell, then pulling away. You’ll switch between your own guess of her fate, and the perpetrator — if indeed there is one — every few pages.
Once you start Force of Nature you’ll read it straight through, quickly, compulsively, happy to be in the hands of a born storyteller. Its setting and characters are uniquely Australian, but not grindingly unsubtle, and its perfect melding of plot, personality and graceful prose are sure to shoot it up to the top of best-seller lists. In a crowded market, Jane Harper shines at the quality end. She knows her characters, her locale, and her plot.
Force of Nature is masterfully paced, wonderfully rendered, and devastatingly entertaining.
Force of Nature is published Tuesday 26th September.