I sat up until 3.30am to finish The Lost Man by Australian author Jane Harper. I was too tired the next day to do anything properly but it was worth it.
The Lost Man is set in a remote area of outback Queensland. The extreme heat and isolation are a dangerous combination, even before people are brought into the mix.
The story begins with Nathan Bright and his son Xander meeting Nathan’s youngest brother Bub at a lonely stockman’s grave on the boundary of their properties, an hour and a half drive away from each of their homes. Nathan and Bub are there to meet the police after the body of their middle brother, Cameron was found at the grave having apparently died from dehydration. Mysteriously, Cameron’s vehicle was found approximately ten kilometres away from the grave fully stocked with water and emergency supplies.
The story is told by Nathan, who had been acrimoniously divorced by Xander’s mother when Xander was very small. I felt sympathetic towards Nathan even after I learned that he had been guilty of one of the worst crimes in the outback many years ago, that of ignoring a stranded neighbour. Since then Nathan had been shunned by his entire community and had been living one of the loneliest, saddest lives imaginable.
Cameron was the golden child of the Bright family. He had been well liked and respected in the outback community, a successful farmer and was married to Ilse, who Nathan had fallen in love with first. Nathan had given up his relationship with Ilse in shame after he was barred from the town where she had been working in the pub.
In the time between Cameron’s death and his funeral, Nathan learned from other family members and staff at Cameron’s property that he had lately been worried for an unknown reason recently. Nathan and Xander began discreet investigations to find out what had been going on.
The other main characters include Nathan, Cameron and Bub’s mother, Cameron and Ilse’s two young daughters, an old man who had worked on the property since before Nathan was born and a couple of English backpackers who were working on the farm.
The mystery of what happened to Cameron wasn’t resolved until the very end of the book and it certainly kept me guessing, not to mention feeling anxious for Nathan and Xander’s wellbeing as I suspected everyone in this book of wishing them harm. The reasons for Cameron’s death were quite dark but the story was told with compassion and I have continued to think about these characters and their motivations for some time after having finished the book.
I’ve previously read The Dry and Force of Nature by this author and enjoyed both, but the trip to the outback in The Lost Man was truly gripping. I loved reading about the incredibly dangerous landscape and the people who choose to make their homes there. The little details were satisfying, even to the scars most of the characters carry from having skin cancers removed.
My purchase of The Lost Man by Jane Harper goes towards fulfilling my New Year’s resolution to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of 2020 (May).