Starting out as a new reviewer last year, it felt as though Jane Harper’s debut novel, The Dry, was the thing on everyone’s lips and blogs. So fulsome was the praise heaped on this thriller set in the arid Australian outback, I leapt at the opportunity to review her second book, Force of Nature, and like The Dry before it, this novel did not disappoint.
Fans of The Dry’s Aaron Falk will be pleased to learn that he’s back, this time caught up in a case of suspected financial irregularities by a big accountancy firm, BaileyTennants. Two groups from the company have embarked on a hike, as part of a corporate retreat, in the remote Giralang Ranges. Of the five women who set off, only four return. Alice Russell, Falk’s connection in the firm, goes missing in mysterious circumstances. It might well be that she has simply got lost, as can happen in such an isolated setting, were it not for a brief voicemail message she has left on Falks’ phone:
‘He closed his eyes in his quiet flat and played the message one more time. Nothing, nothing, and then, in the darkness, a faraway voice spoke two words in his ear,
‘… hurt her…’ ’
As with her first novel, Harper establishes a strong sense of drama from the outset and then proceeds to ramp up the tension further and further. Her use of alternating chapters in Force of Nature, charting both the events leading up to Alice’s disappearance, and the subsequent attempts to find her days later, manages the pace very effectively indeed. As the two narrative strands draw closer together in the latter stages of the novel, my heart rate was certainly raised – this was a genuinely creepy read at times, and the addition of a few very plausible red herrings reminds you that Harper is a writer in full control of her narrative and its genre.
Once again, the Australian landscape is portrayed in all its harsh complexities, a means of fuelling tension and creating a fear of the unknown.
‘Beth itched for a cigarette. Her eyes darted across the tree line. It all looked exactly the same as it had minutes ago. Still, her skin prickled with the unsettling sensation of being observed.’
Harper creates a brilliant sense of claustrophobia in this most expansive of settings. The lack of phone signal, the rapidity in which the women lose their sense of direction, the sense of intense cold which pervades the novel, all add to a taut and highly compelling thriller. Highly recommended!
Thank you to Kimberley Nyamhondera at Little, Brown for my review copy. Join the #ForceOfNature tour at the following blogs: