Sunday, 22 October 2017

Into The Wild

In the dense forest of the Giralang Ranges, five co-workers set off on a four day hike. Part of a corporate bonding experience, the excursion was supposed to bring them closer together. But when only four of the women arrived at the rendezvous point, it was clear that something had gone horribly wrong.

Force of Nature (2017) is Jane Harper's second novel, released a year after her wonderful debut The Dry. It features federal police officer Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper, who have an interest in the matter as the missing woman is the whistleblower on a case they are investigating.

I love the way Harper writes and structures her novel. In alternating chapters between the weekend hike and the search and rescue operation, she slowly unfurls the mystery. The pace quickens as the story builds. Little clues, red herrings and the ominous location create an intriguing mystery. I thought I had figured the ending out quite early, but was delighted to find I was wrong.

Location is key in Harper's novels. In The Dry it was an outback town, dusty from drought. Here, the forest is dense and has a sinister past (evoking Ivan Milat's Belanglo State Forest). It is cold, wet and dark with clouds never lift. As you read, you feel the damp chill in your bones.

My only quibble is that some of the women on the hike were hard to tell apart. On occasion, I would have to stop and go back to figure out which one was which - Bree, Beth, Jill or Lauren. Readers need to pay close attention. All the women were pretty hard to like and have sympathy for. I definitely would not want to work with any of them, and remind me never to go on a corporate retreat.

In my review of The Dry, I said that Falk could become the next Cormoran Strike. With his second outing, I think that is true. He is a flawed detective - like Rebus or Wallander - smart and savvy, yet private and reserved. In the first half of the book we learned very little about Falk, but small insights into his character come out, largely thanks to Carmen's gentle probing. I would have liked more Falk in this novel, to draw him out a bit earlier, but I look forward to the reveal over the course of the series.

Second novels are often awkward and rushed after the success of the first. I didn't feel that in this case. Harper is a really good writer, coming into her stride in this genre. I look forward to the next instalment.