Force of Nature by Jane Harper

When I read Jane Harper’s debut, The Dry, I hadn’t been so impressed by a crime novel since I first read Katherine Howell. I really looked forward to losing myself in Harper’s next instalment in the Aaron Falk series and really hoped she could maintain this incredible standard she’d set.

Well, I was not disappointed.

Force of Nature is a complete cracker of a read. Whereas, The Dry took the reader into a hot, drought-stricken country community, replete with its reticence and suspicion of strangers and revenants, its haunting secrets and ghosts of Christmases past, Force of Nature explores not only the dense, formidably beautiful and haunting ranges that make up Victoria’s Grampians (they’re called the Giralang ranges in the book), but the toxic politics, suffocation and desperation of workplace and family relations.

When a group of colleagues who work for a family firm are taken into the bush for a three-day hike designed to forge and build relationships outside the office, one of the bush-walkers goes missing. Is it a co-incidence that the missing person also happens to be a whistle-blower, whose evidence was set to tear the company apart and whose last telephone call was to agent Aaron Falk and whose final words were “hurt her”?

Summoned to the Giralang Ranges to aid in whatever way he can, Aaron and his partner, Carmen find a traumatised group who, nonetheless, are hiding something.

The Grampians, upon which the Giralang Ranges are based.

Like the bush into which their colleague has disappeared and they brutally emerge, the co-workers conceal and reveal aspects of their story which is told in a series of flashbacks from different points of view. Slowly, a picture of what may have happened and the whereabouts of the missing person builds, yet like the bush which has swallowed her, the stories are incomplete and it’s up to Aaron, Carmen and the rescuers to coerce the humans and nature itself to yield these.

The rugged, dangerous and yet beautiful bush, with it unrelenting moisture, unrecognisable sounds and confounding geography is as much as character as the humans that populate the tale.

What I really loved about this book (which I found difficult to put down) apart from the family dynamics that were explored as well as the office politics, was why and how the crime at its heart occurred. Like The Dry, the tragedy at the centre isn’t sensationalised or exaggerated: it feels so very real, so believable. In a way, that makes this book even more haunting and memorable as you can not only relate to the events that unfolded and the people involved, but in a worrying twist, understand how it could have happened to almost anyone…. Just sensational.


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Tell the Truth by Katherine Howell

imgres-5I was both so looking forward to reading this book, Tell the Truth by Katherine Howell and, frankly, dreading it. Excited because I think Howell is an extraordinary writer who has a light yet masterful touch when it comes to creating utterly convincing characters, great dialogue and a plot that lures you in – I relish a new work by her and it’s moved straight to the top of my “must-read” pile. I was also dreading reading this book because of these exact same things only this time burdened with the knowledge that this is the last novel (hopefully, for the time being only), Howell will write in a while. An announcement late last year on her FaceBook fan page warned fans that Howell is retiring from writing …for the time being.

So, it was with very mixed feelings I read Tell the Truth, in one unable- to-put-down session and what I can say is it certainly brings this wonderful series featuring Sydney detective, Ella Marconi, to a realistic and fabulous close.

Tell the Truth is a fast-paced, page-tuner par excellence with an unexpected and fitting conclusion that draws the threads of not only the major plot in this book to a close, but the narrative arc of Marconi’s roller-coaster personal and professional life (across all eight) as well.

The novel opens when young, happily married paramedic, Stacey Durham, is reported missing and then her car is found covered in blood. Marconi is on the case, questioning the usual suspects – the frantic husband, an over-familiar colleague, resentful sister and so on. Suspicion is rife and the reader vacillates between who might-have-dunnit and who we’re convinced did not. When mysterious notes appear with “…tell the truth” scribed upon them, it appears as though the missing person investigation might just become a murder one – that is, if Marconi doesn’t find some answers swiftly.

While I didn’t see the ending, I never mind if I do providing the author ties it up persuasively and there is none of this ex machina stuff or a character who conveniently appears in the last pages pops up, is linked to the victims and charged.

Howell never does this to her reader. Her beginning, middle and endings, like her characters and their motivations, are always totally believable. She leaves readers satisfied but wanting more as well. Able to not only write a gratifying police procedural, Howell also explores the emotional and psychological complexity of people and the relationships we form – private and public, personal and professional, and the lengths we’ll go to maintain the perfect front in order to spare others and even ourselves from the shame and regret of poor choices. In this novel, Howell also delves into friendship, familial bonds, and the ties that bind and break us.

All in all, this is a ripper of a read from a terrific writer. I am just so disappointed this marks a departure from writing for Howell, though if it’s really a finale, it’s a grand one.


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