Force of Nature by Jane Harper

35688002Fiction — Kindle edition. Flatiron Books, 2018. 329 pgs. Purchased. 

Harper’s debut novel, The Dry, was near the very top of my list of favorite reads from 2017, and I have a feeling this novel — her second starring Australian Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk — will snag a spot on my list for 2018. The drought that plagued the events of Harper’s first novel has lifted, and readers return to find that Falk is pursuing a money laundering case against two members of a family-owned accounting firm in Melbourne.

The case is high-stakes for Falk’s higher ups, but more mundane than the last case Falk worked when his childhood best friend was accused of committing a murdering his family before taking his own life. However, when their cooperating witness goes missing on a company-sponsored outing to the (fictional) Giralang Ranges, Falk and his partner, Carmen Cooper, are called in to help investigating. After all, it was Falk who the missing woman, Alice Russell, called in a desperate (and final) attempt to get help.

Like Harper’s first novel, the narrative in this one alternates between the past — what happens between Alice and the other four women from her corporate challenge team on their hike and the ensuing investigation into Alice’s disappearance by Falk and Cooper. Readers are dropped into the narrative in such a way that I wondered if we were already supposed to know Alice, if she was a character I forgot from the first novel. It takes a few chapters to learn who exactly she is to Falk but, once her character and her relation to Falk is established, the dueling narratives begin to complement one another.

Unlike in the first novel where small town claustrophobia drives the tension, this novel is driven by the vastness of the outdoors, by the eerie feeling that there are horrific events occurring in the same geographical region without an individual knowing. Beyond the flashbacks of how the women became lost in the bush and her vivid descriptions of the wilderness, Harper fosters this feeling through the interactions between the five women on the trip, the revelation of what Alice’s young daughter is up to on social media, and through the mounting concern among the women — and, later, Falk and Cooper — that a serial killer who murdered and buried women in the Giralang Ranges over twenty years ago may have returned (albeit through his son rather than the resurrection of the dead).

Most appreciatively, Harper takes the time to develop both her main character (the reader is treated to more about his relationship with his father, which was a central part of the first novel) and those who are involved in the case. The twins, Bree and Beth, are given detailed backstories that add to the tension of their present-day interactions. The other two women, Jill and Lauren, swing between the roles of victims and villains as their backstories are revealed and expanded upon. The attention to character development across the board (with, sadly, the exception of Falk’s partner, Cooper) makes it all the more difficult to determine who might actually be the killer — or, even if there is a killer.

Once again, Harper has created the perfect blend of a character-driven and a setting-driven crime novel that made for a spooky, page turning read. (I read it over two days while on vacation in Vietnam.) While I did guess the ending of this one quit early on, I still found it to be one of the best crime novels I’ve read, and I am anxious to see what else she comes up with. Both in this series and outside it.

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3 Comments

    1. Harper doesn’t explicitly spoil the ending of ‘The Dry’, but one of the side threads in ‘Force of Nature’ focuses on the main character’s relationship with his father and his childhood friend’s daughter. Both characters are a big part of ‘The Dry’. So I’d read that one first, if you can.

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