Force of Nature by Jane Harper (first published in 2017 by Macmillan Australia)
About the book:
Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.
The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.
Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case – in just a matter of days she was to provide the documents that will bring down the company she works for.
Falk discovers that far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. But does it include murder?
From a dry, dusty Australian town in The Dry, where a simple spark could kindle a fiery blaze to a cold, damp forest hiding ominous secrets in Force of Nature, Jane Harper certainly has a talent for incorporating natural elements into her stories that are alternately sinister and evocative.
I absolutely adored the author’s debut novel, and was so excited to delve into my review copy. And happily for all of us, her second effort measures up to the first.
This time, finance investigator Aaron Falk and his partner are off to a remote mountain range, where a woman has gone missing on a corporate retreat.
The missing woman, unfortunately for Falk, is also one of his informants, from whom he needs important documents to solidify his latest case against the company she works for.
Of course, the question is – was she harmed because someone found out about her whistleblowing, or did something else entirely happen out in the wilderness?
Even though the setting is completely different from the first book in the series, the author still succeeds in creating a moody, unsettling atmosphere – you feel as if something is about to jump out at you from behind a tree at any moment.
What I particularly like about Harper’s work is that even though her work fits into the crime genre, she doesn’t focus on the horror and gore, but rather on the process of investigation and character development – which is exactly the kind of crime/mystery novel I enjoy.
The novel alternates between Falk’s perspective, and those of the women on the ill-fated hike. While the focus isn’t so much on Falk’s personal history as it was in the first novel, we still discover bits and pieces of information about him that colours in a little more of his own story arc.
The pacing of the narrative also worked for me – while it isn’t action packed, Harper definitely keeps the plot moving forward. You can appreciate her style of writing while inching closer towards the conclusion.
Overall, I had to resist so hard to avoid flipping to the end and spoiling myself for the whodunnit – and I think that’s always the mark of an excellent mystery novel!