Throwback Thursday this week features The Lost Man by Jane Harper, published in 2018.
The Outback is a harsh, vast and sparsely populated area with a brutal and unrelenting climate. It’s a hard life and the nearest neighbour could be hours away by car.
Those who live there know never to travel anywhere without a full quota of supplies, the means to stay in radio contact and a first aid kit in case of emergencies. So why did Cameron Bright, born, brought up and living in the Outback all his life, die in the desert, miles away from his fully stocked vehicle. It makes no sense to his family. Cameron knew what it took to survive in such an isolated place and he knew never to move far from his car.
Nathan Bright met his youngest brother, Bub, at the Stockman’s grave where Cameron lay covered by a tarp. He had fought hard to stay alive but the conditions were always against him.
Although on the face of it, it looks like Cameron may have taken his own life, Nathan can’t imagine that to be the case, despite the fact something about Cameron seemed off lately according to several people. He hasn’t seen much of his family in recent years but the more Nathan thinks about it, and as he gradually uncovers Cameron’s past, the less he believes the official verdict.
The Lost Man marks a change of pace for Jane Harper with this slow burning narrative told from Nathan’s perspective. This is more of a mystery/family drama with secrets slowly being revealed, peeled back layer by layer as the story progresses and the tension mounts. It’s a story that gets under your skin, posing question after question.
The prose is evocative and vividly descriptive, conjuring images of a land that can be hostile, but beautiful at the same time. We get to know the small cast of characters who, as well as Bub, Nathan and Nathan’s son Xander, include Cameron’s wife Ilse and their two daughters, his mother, a long term live-in worker and two back packers who work the farm while experiencing life in the Outback. They are all conflicted in some way and as Nathan tries to work out what happened to Cameron, many family secrets are uncovered.
The more I read the more I became invested in the story, the characters and their tangled and complex relationships. Nathan lives on the neighbouring property, lonely and only just scratching a living, ostracised by his peers due to events in the past. His wife and son moved to Brisbane when the marriage fell apart but now Xander is older he and Nathan are getting to know each other again. There’s a good insight into life in the outback, and how isolating it can be, especially when things go wrong and the worst side of human nature rises to the surface. The myth about the stockman’s grave is an interesting addition.
There’s no doubt Jane Harper is a terrific writer, able to convey a true to life sense of place in a succinct and imaginative way, making it an important part of the story. The characterisations are excellent and give a rounded picture of each of the multi layered and diverse cast as we get an insight into their personalities, emotions and behaviour. This is a story that hooked me in slowly and retained a firm hold until the very surprising ending.
He had started to remove his clothes as logic had deserted him, and his skin was cracked. Whatever had been going through Cameron’s mind when he was alive, he didn’t look peaceful in death.
Two brothers meet at the remote border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of the outback. In an isolated part of Australia, they are each other’s nearest neighbour, their homes hours apart.
They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old that no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish.
Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he choose to walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…