Title: Force of Nature
Author: Jane Harper
Published: September 26th 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Australian, Crime
Rating: 4.5 stars
Lost, Cold, Desperate … Danger Runs Deep
Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.
The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.
Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case – and Alice knew secrets. About the company she worked for and the people she worked with.
Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew.
The burning question on everyone’s lips will be if Force of Nature is as good as its predecessor, the superior Australian crime novel, The Dry, which was released to great acclaim by debut novelist Jane Harper in 2016. For fans The Dry, I will ease your mind and declare that I was impressed by Harper’s follow up, Force of Nature.
Force of Nature concerns itself with the disappearance of a woman, Alice Russell. Alice was part of a group of five women, who take a corporate hike together, as part of a team building exercise in the dense Giralang Ranges. When four out of the five women return, minus Alice, a full scale search operation is ignited. Joining in with the search is Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk. Falk has a special interest in locating the whereabouts of Alice. Alice is vital to Falk’s most recent investigation, into the suspect company movements and questionable employees that she works for. As Falk throws himself into the investigation, hoping to find Alice alive, it appears this harmless bush retreat has been the scene of mistrust and violence.
Harper has done it yet again with her exhilarating second novel that exposes a bush jaunt gone terribly wrong. Harper seems to have honed in her craft even further in this novel. Force of Nature demonstrates Harper’s flair for suspense filled crime writing.
Harper’s second novel follows a layered narrative structure that works well to heighten the tension in this novel. We move back and forth between the present day investigations into locating missing woman Alice, through the flashbacks from the three-day hike. Harper cleverly intertwines this alternating timeline, along with covering the voices of the five women involved in this fateful hike. She also ties in the added perspective of the investigating police officer Aaron Falk and his partner, Carmen. Harper’s narrative approach gives the reader a thorough insight into the unfolding events.
The highlight of this novel is the setting. As many reviewers have commented before me, the strength and domineering presence of the Giralang Ranges locale commands that it be seen as a character in its own right. I was immediately drawn into the atmospheric bush setting. I could easily picture the great expanse of the bush. Just like the five women in the novel, I felt completely at the mercy of the natural elements, especially when the storm struck. Harper is careful to expose the danger posed by the natural world. Many of these scenes were powerful and I won’t be forgetting them in a hurry!
Force of Nature is a novel that incites fear, panic and a sense of dread. It is hard to not to get pulled into the nail biting moments of this arresting novel. Harper adds further danger to the mix by introducing an older crime to this story. Martin Kovac, a serial killer that once operated in the exact region where the five women are hiking forms part of the events of the novel. Even though he has been jailed, not all the bodies of his victims have been recovered. There is also the looming presence of his son, who the authorities believe may be following in his father’s depraved footsteps. The comparisons to Ivan Milat, another well know serial killer who preyed on men and women in the deep Australian bush, soon came to the front of my mind during these sections of the book. I have to say I was completely drawn in to this story thread.
It was a most welcome experience to see Federal agent Aaron Falk make a return appearance in Harper’s second novel. I hope Harper plans to release more novels featuring this appealing lead. Although we seem to be less involved in Falk’s personal life this time around, I still found Falk a great lead to follow. The added connection between the missing woman, Alice and Falk, was an interesting narrative thread. I also enjoyed the introduction to Falk’s partner, Carmen to the fold.
Harper shows us how she really is master of suspense and she clearly leads the pack in the Australian crime genre. Harper issues us plenty of twists and possible scenario’s to play around with, as to Alice’s disappearance. My own theories were way off, which I was completely fine with, as it is sign that Harper did not follow the predictable track at all. Readers should be satisfied with the final turn of events.
I do hope we can look forward to a third outing with Aaron Falk and fingers crossed, his partner Carmen again, very soon. Jane Harper can add another solid crime suspense novel to her impressive resume. Force of Nature is a gripping Australian set mystery novel that I highly recommend.
Force of Nature by Jane Harper was published on September 26th 2017 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Force of Nature, Jane Harper visit here.
*I wish to thank the publisher, Pan Macmillan for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Force of Nature is book #55 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge