Little, Brown | 2018 (8 February) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
When five women head into the rugged and difficult terrain of the Giralang Ranges in the Australian Outback on a company team building exercise, only four will return. They’d taken a wrong turn and had to sleep far from their intended camp. In the morning Alice Russell was gone. The other women, Alice’s boss and colleagues, hoped that she’d made it out of the bush before them but they were wrong. Federal agent and police office Aaron Falk quickly arrives from Melbourne with his partner Carmen Cooper. He has a deep interest in this case. The women, as well as a separate team of five men, are from BaileyTenants, a company that Falk is investigating for money laundering, and Alice Russell was his whistleblower.
The Dry, the first Aaron Falk novel, was a crime fiction highlight of last year and it’s a pleasure to be given the chance to spend more time with this enigmatic and likeable figure. A major element in the appeal of this growing series is its locations. Jane Harper captures perfectly the beauty and danger of Australia’s wild places. In The Dry it was the desert; now we’re taken deep into a hostile yet stunning environment of forests, rivers and waterfalls, rocks and scrub. Isolated and almost impenetrable but, according to the company that runs these team building courses, safe. Apparently.
Force of Nature moves back and forth through this period of a few days in which everything has become chaos. We follow Falk and Carmen on their investigation as they try to get to know this remote place and its inhabitants while other chapters return to those three eventful, stormy and hungry days in the Giralang Ranges when the women lost their way. It’s an enjoyable mix of survival out in the wilds with the order of a police investigation. At times civilisation, and the world of finance crimes and investigations, seems a long way away.
There is something a little unlikeable about each of the five women who are so reluctantly thrown together for the course. Two of them are twin sisters and even they can’t get along. This adds tension and some disharmony to the novel. I welcomed the scenes with Falk and Carmen – for the relief they brought from the madness.
My favourite part of Force of Nature is its atmosphere. Jane Harper skilfully creates a sinister mood of menace and nature gone wild that grows throughout the novel. You can really empathise with the relief that characters feel when they get in their cars to drive the long drive to Melbourne.
While I found Force of Nature a little less original and impactful than its superb predecessor The Dry, it nevertheless takes us on a powerful and moody journey into that side of human nature that is as dangerous and untamed as the Girlang Ranges.