Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Book Review: "Force of Nature" by Jane Harper

"Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you."

Nobody likes corporate teambuilding retreats. But employees from the boutique accountancy firm BaileyTennants are off for a three-day hike and camping adventure in Australia's Giralang Ranges. Even the firm's chairwoman and chief executive, brother and sister, are part of the group heading out.

The group is divided into men and women, and each will be expected to traverse a path through the wilderness, camp out (with supplies provided by the outfitter running the retreat), and head back to the starting point two days later.

Yet it doesn't quite go as planned, at least for the women's group. Four of the five women arrive back at the starting point several hours late, with various injuries, bruises, and complaints. One woman, Alice Russell, seems to have disappeared, after acting interchangeably ill-at-ease and aggressive since the trip began. No one knows if Alice left of her own volition to find her way back, or if something untoward happened to her in the wilderness.

Aaron Falk, a federal police agent, and his partner, Carmen, get involved in the search for Alice. They're worried about her whereabouts, of course, but for an entirely different reason, as she was part of an investigation they were conducting, looking into malfeasance at the firm. Alice was supposed to deliver some key evidence to them the day after the retreat, but now she—and, apparently, the evidence—seem to have disappeared.

No one is quite sure where suspicion should lie. Did Alice flee and make it out safely? Did someone within the firm's upper echelons catch wind of what she was helping with, and act to protect themselves? Are there lies behind the slightly different stories each of the remaining women in the group tell of their days in the wilderness? Or is there another dangerous presence lurking in the wild?

In an effort to find Alice and keep their investigation alive, Aaron and Carmen's search will take them deep into the menacing wilderness of the Giralang Ranges. The search will uncover secrets that many of the retreat participants are hiding, and will lay bare some painful memories for Aaron as well.

Jane Harper's The Dry, her debut thriller and first book featuring Aaron Falk, was absolutely fantastic. It was one of the best books I read last year, so needless to say, I've been anticipating this follow-up a great deal. It's always a bit of a challenge when you read the next book in a series you love—you don't want it to feel formulaic but you do want it to feel familiar, and have the same elements that made you love the previous book.

Harper is a terrific storyteller. She loves to build suspense at a slow burn, until you are flying through the pages, desperate to figure out what happened. Much as she did in The Dry, she creates such an evocative sense of time and place, so you felt the cold, the gloom, the menace of the wilderness as it closed in. (I even felt my throat get parched as she described the women's struggles to find water.)

Force of Nature shifts narration between the present, as the search for Alice continues, and the past, recounting the women's actions from start to finish. It's a tremendously captivating story and I was hooked right from the beginning. What was missing in this book for me was Aaron. Even though he's the main character, because of the way the book was narrated, he was only in the story about half the time, and I am such a fan of his character, I wanted more of his presence.

Don't get me wrong: this is still a great book. If you're new to Harper's writing you could pick this one up and not feel like you missed anything, and you'd find a compelling, well-executed thriller. This book did nothing to diminish my enthusiasm for Harper's work, and I so hope that there's a third book in this series on the horizon, hopefully with twice the Aaron!

No comments:

Post a Comment