Thursday, February 15, 2018

Force of Nature

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Flatiron Books: 2/6/18
eBook review copy; 336 pages
hardcover ISBN-13: 9781250105639

Force of Nature by Jane Harper is a highly recommended thriller set in the Giralang mountain range north of Melbourne, Australia. Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk, from Harper's debut novel The Dry, is back. 

Five women from the BaileyTennants accountancy firm set out on the trek in the Giralang range while on a corporate wilderness retreat, but only four return.  From the start, before the team building exercise went awry, it was clear that the participants were all reluctantly participating. After all, it is one thing to work with your colleagues and another to go hiking in the cold and rain through the wilderness with them. When the women are late for the pickup time, and then finally make it out of the wilderness minus one member and different stories, it is clear that something happened.

Federal agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper become involved when the missing woman, Alice Russell, turns out to be their informant in their investigation of the accounting firm and an on-going money-laundering scheme.  It is unclear if her disappearance has anything to do with their case, because Alice seems to be universally disliked for any one of a number of reasons. Adding to the mystery is the legacy left by a serial killer who murdered young women in the same area twenty years ago. He is dead, but is there a copy-cat?

I appreciate the well-developed characters and setting. The novel expertly portrays the distrust between the five women and reasons for it, including Alice's cruelty and bossy behavior in the present and the past. The women and their backgrounds are slowly revealed, along with current circumstances that influence their relationships with each other. The weather and location both add additional dimensions to the story - wet, gloomy, cold, and dark, oppressive, somewhat sinister.  There is also more insight into Falk's character for those who read The Dry, although Force of Nature can be read as a stand-alone novel.

The narrative helps propel the plot forward as it alternates between  Alice and the other women, revealing their secrets and past relationships, and Falk's thoughts and investigation. Harper's writing is just as brilliant this time and Force of Nature can also be described as engaging, extremely well-written, and finely paced novel. It's not quite as perfect as The Dry, but, then, Harper set her own bar so high with her first novel. Certainly Force of Nature is worth reading and held my rapt attention to the perfect ending. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Flatiron Books.

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