Monday, March 23, 2020

Jane Harper novels

The Dry

This is Harper’s very impressive and highly acclaimed first novel and I can see why. Aaron Falk, a Federal Police financial investigator has come from Melbourne to his home town of Kiewarra, to attend the funeral of his childhood friend Luke Hadley. The whole town is in shock, although not overwhelmingly surprised, for it seems the pressure of the drought got to Luke and he shot his wife and son, before turning the gun on himself. Luke’s mother is convinced it doesn’t add up and asks Aaron to look into it. He joins forces with the local cop Raco, who still has questions of his own. But Aaron’s past history threatens to muddy the waters; as a teen he and Luke were close friends with a girl, Ellie, who was found dead in the river. That mystery has never been solved to the town’s satisfaction, at the time all turned on him and his father as suspects, causing them to leave town, never to return. Harper has a strong insight into human personality, and what can drive people, with layers of complexity and nuance. Nothing is quite what it seems on the surface, and there are some kind and generous characters, as well as some selfish and downright nasty, all with different secrets. There are some themes of domestic violence and alcohol fuelled violence. Harper has very realistically portrayed the toll that long term drought can have on a farming community, combined with long term memories, long held ideas and unsolved tensions.

Force of Nature

Harper’s second book has Aaron Falk returning, later in the same year as The Dry. He and his police partner, Carmen, are working with Alice Russell, who is secretly assisting them with an investigation into her workplace. Alice has been away for the weekend on a team bonding exercise camping in the Giralang Ranges with four other women in the company: the chairwoman, an old school friend in management, her assistance and her assistant’s twin, a new data archivist. But something has gone very wrong, and when the women return many hours after expected on Sunday night, Alice is no longer with them. The book runs two storylines, first is the investigation as Falk hears what happened from various people. The second is the chronological account of the women’s trip, as various relationships fracture and change. At the same time, there is an ominous tension over the whole area, as this was the place where 25 years ago Martin Kovac murdered numerous women, This has (one assumes intentionally) eerie parallels with Ivan Milat and Belanglo State Forest. While a solid story with interesting characters, this was my least preferred of the three. You definitely will want to read The Dry first to understand the references to Falk.

The Lost Man

This compelling and very readable story is set in far outback Queensland. Husband and father Cameron Bright, has just been found dead on his own property, under the Stockman’s Grave, the only shade for miles around in the scorching summer sun. Nothing adds up though, his car was 9kms away, fully stocked with water and supplies, and there is no sign of any struggle. The story is told from the perspective of his brother Nathan, who has an adjacent property, a bitter ex-wife and a 16-year old son who has come for the holidays. As Nathan starts to explore both the present situation and revisit his family’s past, it is clear that some things were not quite as he thought. It’s gently done rather than explicit, but it does include themes of domestic violence and rape. It’s an intriguing story about the realities of outback life and the isolation many face, as well as the communities around them. I really enjoyed it.

I appreciated all three books and am hoping Harper writes many more, perhaps also developing Falk as an ongoing character.

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