Author: Jane Harper
Published: February 2018 by Little, Brown Book Group UK
Category: Thriller, Suspense, Book Review
FIVE WENT OUT. FOUR CAME BACK…
Is Alice here? Did she make it? Is she safe? In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four had asked after Alice’s welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.
Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.
Force of Nature has a measured pace, similar to that of The Dry, except the conditions are the total opposite. Instead of a life threatening, damaging drought, it’s the depths of winter, freezing cold, wet and windy. Set mostly in the rugged wilderness that is the Giralang Ranges, with the unforgettable association to the serial killer, Martin Kovac, the story follows a group of five women on a team building exercise, a corporate retreat, hiking the bush trail over the course of a weekend. Only four came back.
Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk and his partner, Carmen Cooper, arrive at the Giralang lodge to find out what happened to the missing woman, Alice Russell. Their whistleblower. The Financial Investigations Unit are looking into BaileyTennants, the company who organised the weekend, with a little help on the inside. The AFP are investigating serious allegations centred around money laundering.
The woman could see her own fear reflected in the three faces staring back at her. Her heartbeat thumped and she could hear the others’ rapid breathing. Overhead, the pocket of sky carved out by the trees was a dull grey. The wind shook the branches, sending a shower of water down on the group below. No-one flinched. Behind them, the rotten wood of the cabin groaned and settled.
‘We have to get out of here. Now,’ the woman said.
The pair on her left nodded immediately, united for once by their panic, their eyes wide and dark. On her right, the briefest hesitation, then a third nod.
‘What about -‘
‘What about what?’
‘…What about Alice?’
The narrative flows well and unfolds with a dual timeline. Short chapters move the story along, peeling back layers and leading up to an unexpected reveal. In the present Aaron, Carmen, the rescue services and the state police are coordinating the search and trying to piece together events. This alternates with flashbacks to the women’s journey, as they become lost in the Australian wilderness. The focal point is the characters and, as the story progresses, the tension and desperation builds as we start to get an idea of the history and dynamics between the women as the survival instinct kicks in. One of the underlying themes here shows how far a mother would go to protect her child. All is not as it seems and I had no idea of the eventual outcome until it was revealed. There were several ways it could have played out.
Atmospheric and vivid, the detailed writing gives a strong sense of the setting and the mindsets of the women….the cold, wet and miserable weather, the hunger and thirst, the menacing feel of being surrounded and overwhelmed by the shadows cast from the encroaching forest, how it all can affect a person’s perception and behaviour. I was quite surprised, though, that an established company, specialising in this sort of outdoor activity, would send their parties out without any sort of back up, or way of communication in case of emergency.
It was good to learn a little more about Aaron Falk, the relationship between himself and his father, and how Carmen helps him to put his feelings and regrets in perspective. There’s a lot more mileage in this character, he’s likeable, portrayed very realistically and I’ll be interested to see where Jane Harper takes him. I’ve enjoyed the writing style and story telling in both The Dry and Force of Nature very much.
I chose to read and review Force of Nature courtesy of an advance reader copy supplied by NetGalley and the author/publisher.
Jane Harper is the author of The Dry, winner of various awards including the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, the 2017 Indie Award Book of the Year, the 2017 Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year Award and the CWA Gold Dagger Award for the best crime novel of 2017. Rights have been sold in 27 territories worldwide, and film rights optioned to Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea. Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK and lives in Melbourne.