Force of Nature by Jane Harper (Mystery / Thriller)

Writing: 4.5 Plot: 5 Characters: 4.5

I love Jane Harper — this is her second book written and the third that I have read. I seem to like them best in reverse order of their writing which bodes well for the future!

In this book, five women set off on a multi-day trek into dense bush as part of a corporate retreat (note to self: Never go on a corporate retreat of this sort! Never!). Only four of them come back. Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk — who features in Harper’s The Dry — gets involved as the missing woman has been an informer for his work in the Federal Financial Investigations Unit. Lots and lots of complexity, psychology, strange relationships, suspicion, and suspense. Told in chapters alternating between what Falk and his partner are discovering and what actually happens during the four days the women are out. As the personalities of the five women slowly unravel during their ordeal, Falk is simultaneously coming to terms with his own.

A complete page turner — a kind of modern-day, corporate version of Lord of the Flies amidst threads of money laundering, serial killers, anorexia, and fear.

The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Fiction)

Writing: 5 Plot: 5 Characters: 5

A completely absorbing book. The kind of great writing that lets you forget that you’re reading at all as you become completely immersed in the world described. Part mystery — part family drama, all playing out in a landscape that is real, but unlike any that most of us know — the remote Australian Outback.

Cameron Bright has been found dead of exposure and dehydration a mere nine km from his car packed (as usual) with enough survival gear to carry him through any outback mishap. Cameron runs Burley Downs — the largest station in the region at 3500 sq km. His older brother Nathan runs the adjacent homestead — a three hour drive away. As Nathan and the rest of the family struggle to find out what happened to Cameron, they also must contend with the difficult environment and with all the broken spaces between them — none of which is ever discussed in this culture where extreme quiet is the norm.

With vivid characters, deft pacing, tight prose, and breathtaking descriptions of the landscape and way of life it represents, you won’t be able to put this one down. I carried the hardcover in my carry-on simply because I couldn’t bear not to finish the last 40 pages… My first Jane Harper, but definitely not the last.

A few of the great lines…

“He hugged her back. The movement had the rusty edge of underuse.”

“The kid lived in a city. He couldn’t cope with quiet like the rest of them.”

“It was funny how high and bright the red flags flew in hindsight.”