Simon McDonald reviews the sequel to Jane Harper's The Dry.
Jane Harper knows precisely how to grab a reader, draw him or her into the story, then slowly tighten her grip until escape is impossible. The Dry was a stylish, compulsive whodunnit, centred around a small rural town, and the unearthing of dark secrets from its present and past. It was a superbly riveting demonstration of intelligent crime writing, and its successor, Force of Nature, provides further proof: Jane Harper knows all there is to know about detonating the gut-level shocks of a great thriller.
The premise of Force of Nature is deceptively simple: five women head off into the bush on a corporate retreat, and only four come out the other side. The well-being of the missing bush walker, Alice Russell, is of particular interest to Federal Police agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper: she’s the whistle-blower in their latest case. Their honed cop instincts can’t believe it’s purely a coincidence that Russell has vanished on a trip organised by the corporation she is covertly helping to dismantle. So off they go, from Melbourne to the rugged terrain of the Giralang Ranges, determined to disentangle the mess of deceit, deception and suspicion formed between the remaining four women during their ill-fated hike.
There’s a distinct Liane Moriarty vibe to Force of Nature and the nature in which its plot uncoils, flitting between multiple perspectives, and the past and present; a little like Truly Madly Guilty, but with a sharper edge. Jane Harper’s brilliance in characterisation and evocative prose is on full display here, as she grants herself a large cast of characters to probe the psyche’s of, teasing the truth, dangling the explanation as to what actually happened to Alice Russell, then pulling away. You’ll switch between your own guess of her fate, and the perpetrator — if indeed there is one — every few pages.
Once you start Force of Nature you’ll read it straight through, quickly, compulsively, happy to be in the hands of a born storyteller. Its setting and characters are uniquely Australian, but not grindingly unsubtle, and its perfect melding of plot, personality and graceful prose are sure to shoot it up to the top of best-seller lists. In a crowded market, Jane Harper shines at the quality end. She knows her characters, her locale, and her plot. Force of Nature is masterfully paced, wonderfully rendered, and devastatingly entertaining.
Force of Nature is published Tuesday 26th September.