Force of Nature by Jane Harper: A review

This is Jane Harper's second book featuring Australian Federal Police financial investigator Aaron Falk. In the first one, her debut novel The Dry, she took us to the drought-ridden Australian outback and made us feel the parched, desiccated landscape. I had to keep my water bottle by my side while reading it. The descriptions were that evocative. In this follow-up, we visit the cold, wet, windy, and wild Giralang mountain range north of Melbourne, and Harper makes us shiver and reach for a sweater while reading. The woman really does excel at mood and atmosphere setting.

The story begins as a weekend corporate teambuilding retreat in the mountains. Selected employees of the BaileyTennants financial firm are sent to the Giralang mountain range for the retreat. There will be two groups, one composed entirely of women and the other of men, and they will follow separate courses set up by the company that devises the exercises and will meet up again at the end of the weekend. The women's group comprises five mostly reluctant women. The rules of the weekend are that all phones and personal communication devices must be left behind; they would be useless in the mountains anyway. But one woman, Alice Russell, manages to conceal her phone and take it with her.

From the beginning, the group is tense and disputative and, as we gradually learn, each member is beset by her own personal anxieties and worries. This does not bode well for building a team.

At the end of the weekend, the men's group emerges from the mountains, but where are the women? The original feeling of annoyance with the women quickly turns to unease and apprehension as they fail to appear. Eventually, four of the women do trail out of the mountains, one with snakebite and others with various injuries, but where is the fifth woman? Where is Alice Russell?

This is a concerning question for Aaron Falk and his new partner, Carmen Cooper because they had been investigating irregularities in the financial dealings of BaileyTennants and Alice Russell had been their informant. She had been set to provide the documents to back up the information she had provided, and now she's missing. Does her disappearance have anything to do with her secret cooperation with investigators?

Falk and Cooper join the massive search party combing the wild bushlands looking for Alice. As time goes by, hope for finding her alive in the cold, rain, and isolation of the mountains diminishes. When her body is finally found with a head wound the apparent cause of her death, the search turns to finding her killer. Falk and Cooper are also hoping to turn up those documents she had promised.

Jane Harper continues to impress me with her ability to set a scene and an atmosphere with no extraneous wordiness. Her writing might well be described as spare; it seems that every word has a purpose and nothing is wasted. She brilliantly describes her characters by sketching their family dynamics, their histories, and secrets. We come to feel that we have met these people, we know them. The psychological tensions built into their complicated relationships become the heart of the story and it was only near the end that I was beginning to get a glimmer of the truth of the matter.

Aaron Falk is an appealing character. I wonder if more Harper novels featuring him might be forthcoming.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Comments

  1. The plot of the book sounds very good. Your description makes me want to read the book.

    I am all for finding meaningful time without electronic devices. But if an employer tried to isolate me from them I would also try to sneak a phone in.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The phone and the lack of any service in the remote mountains is actually an important point of the plot. When the women ran into trouble after taking the wrong fork in the trail, they had no way to call for help which increased the feeling of desperation.

      Delete
  2. I have yet to post my review, but I really enjoyed the book also. I will have to go back and read the first book, and definitely plan to continue the series.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know if she will write more Aaron Falk mysteries, but I hope she does. He's a good character.

      Delete
    2. I hope she does too! I guess I had not even thought about her not continuing, since there are only two books so far. Has she said anything about not continuing?

      Delete
    3. Her third book, The Lost Man did not have him in it and she has another coming out later this year that is a standalone, so I don't know if she plans any more Falk books.

      Delete
  3. Yeah there's good atmosphere in the books. I like Aaron Falk ... and he's not in Book 3 but I hope he returns. I think he will. Here's my thoughts on this one at: https://www.thecuecard.com/books/we-begin-our-ascent-and-more/

    ReplyDelete
  4. Five out of five stars is a great rating. It sounds like this author is great at creating scenes and characters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She is that. This is the third book of hers that I've read and I've loved them all.

      Delete
  5. I have not gotten to this author yet. Sounds like I better do so!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you would like her books, Judy. She's excellent at getting you to turn those pages.

      Delete
  6. I've yet to read anything by Jane Harper, but will add her to my list of authors to read in the future.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've just discovered her within the last year and so far I've loved everything of hers that I've read.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Excerpt from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney

Open Season (Joe Pickett #1) by C.J. Box - A review

Poetry Sunday: Invitation by Mary Oliver