Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Jane Harper’

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

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).

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

 

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Force of Nature is the second novel by Australian author Jane Harper featuring likeable good guy Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk, who was introduced to readers in her first book, The Dry.

Aaron become involved in the story of Force of Nature after a whistleblower, Alice Russell, failed to return from a team-building exercise hiking with work colleagues through the rugged and isolated Giralang Ranges. Before going missing, Alice had been surreptitiously collecting information for Aaron’s case against the firm she worked for.

Alice and four other women, including the company’s CEO, went into the bush Friday afternoon. They carried with them their tents, sleeping bags and a limited amount of food and water. One of the women had a compass. They were supposed to surrender their mobile phones before they went into the bush, but Alice, an aggressive and argumentative rule-breaker, kept hers. At some point over the weekend the women’s group became lost and Alice tried to phone Aaron, although because of the remote location and poor signal, all he received was part of a voice message asking for help. After the women’s group got lost Alice become separated from the group, for reasons that made me feel anxious for her wellbeing.

A men’s group from the company did a similar hike along a different route over the same weekend but reached the finish safely. The difference between the dynamics within the two groups was obvious, with tensions within the women’s group playing a part in them being unable to effectively work together to find their way out of the bush.

The story flicks back and forward between the women’s time on the hike and while they are lost in the bush, as well as afterwards as searchers look for Alice. Aaron and his partner, Carmen Cooper, assist with the search but are also required back in Melbourne when they learn that Alice’s teenage daughter’s boyfriend has released sexually explicit footage of her onto the internet.

I’m grateful that my company stick with barefoot lawn bowls*, city scavenger hunts and other relatively safe events for our end-of-year parties and team building exercises, instead of sending us to trek through the bush, kayaking through rapids or jumping out of perfectly good aeroplanes.

The idea of spending a weekend hiking with my workmates doesn’t appeal to me and I’m sure it wouldn’t appeal to many of them either. Being lost in the bush is a particularly Australian fear, as most of us would have experienced school camps in similar locations to Force of Nature‘s fictional Giralang Ranges, or day or weekend hikes through national and state parks that are bigger than some European countries. There are often news stories about lost hikers, some of whom are found and some who are not. In the bush there are snakes, bushfires, extreme heat or cold just to name a few of the factors hikers contend with. In Force of Nature, the characters were also in an area known for its links to a serial killer reminiscent of Ivan Milat, who was responsible for the deaths of at least seven people later found buried in the Belanglo State Forest in NSW.

The two groups were underprepared for the hike, but as the manager of the company who ran the exercise constantly reiterated, they’d never lost anyone before… In hindsight, providing flares to groups along with compasses and tents would probably have been a good idea.

I suspected nearly every character in the book of having a hand in Alice’s disappearance and of course, was completely wrong about what actually happened. I loved watching Aaron’s character develop and I liked his relationship with his partner, Carmen, who I hope returns in future books. I enjoyed Force of Nature even better than The Dry, and that’s saying something.

*Although, let’s be honest, barefoot lawn bowls and alcohol probably shouldn’t be mixed. An Escape Room, anyone?

 

The Dry by Jane Harper

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The Dry by Australian author Jane Harper came to my attention via a review by Fiction Fan, who often bears the responsibility for adding to my list of ‘want to reads,’ but over the past months I’ve seen this book everywhere; people are reading it on the train, there are displays in bookshops and interviews with the author in the newspapers. Most excitingly, when I picked up the Dymocks Top 101 booklist for 2017, I spotted the title at #17.

https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/the-dry-aaron-falk-1-by-jane-harper/

The Dry is set in Kiewarra, a fictional Victorian farming community. My guess is that Kiewarra is based on a Mallee district, maybe Kerang, or Ouyen, where the bakery is famous for their Vanilla Slice. Families up that way have owned their land for generations and they do it tough during droughts. In this story, the whole community is struggling financially and emotionally because of drought.

The Dry starts with the tragic death of three people in a family. On the surface, it appears that Luke Hadler shot his wife and primary school aged son before shooting himself because he couldn’t cope with the prospect of losing of the family farm. Luke’s baby daughter was spared and later found in the house, howling her little head off.

Aaron Falk was Luke’s friend when they were growing up and he returns to Kiewarra from Melbourne for the funeral. Falk is now an investigator with the Australian Federal Police, but as a teenager, he and his father were forced to leave town after the death of a girl whom he and Luke had been friends with.

When Falk is asked by Luke’s parents to investigate the murder-suicide he agrees reluctantly. Most of the people of Kiewarra remember him and the circumstances of him leaving town, and he is harassed and threatened by many of the townspeople, including the girl’s father and cousin.

Despite the harassment, Falk sticks around and teams up with the local copper, Sergeant Raco, who has also been poking about on the Hadler farm. Raco is a good bloke, happily married with a baby on the way and he is smart enough to have noticed irregularities in the case. Raco is also an outsider in Kiewarra but he knows enough about the dynamics of small towns to make the locals toe the line.

As Falk and Raco investigate the deaths, further mysteries arise about the death of the girl all of those years ago, particularly about Luke’s possible involvement.

The language in this book is spot-on, although Australians swear a lot more than this book would suggest. The evocative details which gave the story an Australian feel were also beautifully done, although I could have done without the image of the huntsman crawling around Falk’s hotel room; as an arachnophobe, I would have killed the spider with my shoe on its first appearance.

The country-town atmosphere also felt rang true. Everyone in Kiewarra knew most of their neighbours’ business and were quick to judge each other. They ignored issues which should have been addressed when they were afraid of their own livelihoods being harmed, but they also rallied around each other in ways which doesn’t happen in the city, where a person or family can be as anonymous as they want to be.

I have to admit that I had a feeling about how this story would end and was very excited when I was proved right. This did not spoil my enjoyment of the story in any way and I strongly recommend The Dry to others.

Force of Nature is the next book by this author featuring Aaron Falk and I cannot wait to read it.

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