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.
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.