Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along a muddy track.
Only four come out on 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 encourage teamwork and resilience. At least, that’s what the corporate retreat website advertises.
Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker, Alice Russell. Because Alice knew secrets, about the company she worked for and the people she worked with.
The four returning women tell Falk a tale of fear, violence and fractured trust during their days in the remote Australian bushland. And as Falk delves into the disappearance of Alice, he begins to suspect some dangers ran far deeper than anyone knew.
What I Thought
Jane Harper has done it again. She has captured lightning in a bottle not once, but twice. With FORCE OF NATURE she has crafted a second beguiling novel, with a tapestry of threads that crisscross throughout the story weaving a masterpiece of misdirection till the final reveal. A surprise, I for one, never saw coming. The clever red herrings, the subtle misdirects, she does it all to perfection. You think you know what’s going on? You don’t. And believe me, I’m pretty good at sussing out the culprit early on. Not this time around.
Harper’s oh so believable cast of characters—highlighting the best and worst of human nature under duress, and in a hostile environment—are people you might know, people you might have met or worked with, people who, as the story progresses, start to fall apart. I loved every scene and every page detailing what happened to the five women as they set out on what should be, a bonding weekend. As they dissolve into a female version of Lord of the Flies. Every bitching, snide remark, every possible slight, every hurt revealed. Every fibre of these women is shredded, slowly and surely, till they become their own worst enemies.
For me, this is writing at its best. The detail, the emotion, the pain and the secrets, are all slowly laid bare for us. Every scab is picked at till it bleeds, and we see what’s beneath the thin veneer of respectability. Five women from the same company, but from different strata, thrown together and then, go feral. But there is so much more than that, so much more than the in-fighting. Lives and secrets opened up along with the lies and deceit. And why people do what they do. Harper gets in there, beneath the skin, and exposes it all.
Aaron Falk, who was, for the most part, the focus of The Dry, takes almost a back seat in FORCE OF NATURE, as Harper alternates chapters featuring the slow dissolution of the five women, and between Falk, his new partner, Carmen, and the search for the missing woman. Each dynamic has its part to play in the story as a whole, and each chapter dovetails cleverly to keep you guessing. I liked how we got to see a bit more of Falk’s history with his father, filling out more of his own backstory, while not deflecting from the story at hand, the missing women lost in an unforgiving outback.
A rugged brutal landscape that is the perfect backdrop to this kind of story, and a character in and of it self. All adding to the tension that slowly builds towards a heartbreaking reveal. Nothing and no one is ever what they seem, and Harper makes sure we are left wondering right up till the last few pages about the who, why, and how.
Clever twist and turns, so that you never quite know what’s going to happen next, or what these women might say or do next, is, believe it or not, a gripping read. Try it for yourself, you will not be disappointed.