Bookshelf spotlight: Jane Harper

Not a New Zealand author this time for Murder/Mystery Monday, but an Australian one.

I’m including the first three books published by Jane Harper in one post because although they are each standalones, there is a link between each. They don’t need to be read in any order, and I read book 2, 1, then 3. I read book 2 with my book club, they had read book 1 many months earlier, and the consensus in the group was that Force of Nature wasn’t as strong as The Dry. I’m not sure if my enjoyment of it was more because I hadn’t yet read The Dry, or because I just really loved the premise.

In the first book, The Dry, we have two mysteries. The first is the one that draws the main character, Aaron Falk, back to his hometown, and the second is the one that had him leaving twenty years earlier. I felt that Jane Harper perfectly portrayed the judgements, suspicion and all-round behaviour towards each other you’re likely to see in a remote small town in Australia (well, probably anywhere in the world, where the town is small enough for everyone to know each other, and views might be narrowed). The “who” for the first, modern day, mystery was one I didn’t see coming until it was almost upon me. Just what a reader wants. The “who” of the past mystery, however, was one I guess pretty early on. It felt obvious to me, but there are a lot of reasons why I might have guessed it when others might not (I can’t share specifics on that without risking spoiling a potential surprise for you). But my “knowing” who did it, didn’t detract from my interest and enjoyment of seeing that mystery unfold.

The Dry, Jane Harper

Who really killed the Hadler family?

It hasn’t rained in Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the farming community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are discovered shot to death on their property. Everyone assumes Luke Hadler committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son.

Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to his hometown for the funerals and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and his childhood friend Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth.

The premise of Force of Nature really captured my attention. A team-building exercise in the wilds of Australia, with the teams being split male vs female and each being given a different route to take. I think it was supposed to be a 2-3 day walk. But though the men come out the other end on time, the women do not. When they appear a few days later, one of them is missing. And so starts the hunt for the missing woman – what happened to her? Aaron Falk, is a fraud investigator who is drawn to the scene because the missing woman is his whistleblower. He wonders if someone found out and this is why she is missing. In the book, we flit between reading about the search, trying to determine what happened, and the days in the woods, seeing what went wrong. What I especially loved about this book is that when we are reading the time in the woods, we keep getting a chapter from a different person’s perspective. It makes for a fascinating read, and really keeps you guessing. I did pick up the clues, and figured it out before the official reveal. But I loved how I had to be paying attention to pick up on the clues – and there were red herrings that weren’t obvious red herrings at the time.

As I was reading this book, I did read a few snippets on Aaron that made me think “hmm, there’s a backstory there that I’d be interested in reading”, but it didn’t detract from the book in any way. And it was great to go back and read The Dry after this one and get that backstory.

Force of Nature, Jane Harper

Five women go on a hike. Only four return.

When a group of colleagues are forced to participate in a team-building exercise in the Giralang Ranges, they reluctantly start walking down the muddy track. But Alice Russel doesn’t appear at the other end. Her last phone call was to Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk. Alice is the whistleblower in his latest corporate fraud case and as he pursues the investigation, Falk uncovers a tangled web of suspicion and betrayal.

How well do we know the people we work with?

Jane Harper’s third book, The Lost Man, does not have Aaron Falk in it. And I was told there was no connection to either of the first books. But there is – to the first one. It’s a subtle connection, and honestly, I may have only picked it up because I had read The Dry just 2-3 months before The Lost Man was released. But it was fun revealing to my book club what the link was. I think of the three books, this one might have been the strongest. Yet again, the author keeps you on your toes trying to figure out what happened and why. And there is a lot more going on with the characters and the town.

The Lost Man, Jane Harper

The man lay still in the centre of a dusty grave under a monstrous sky.

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland. They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last chance for their middle brother, Cameron.

The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something has been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? If he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects.

Jane Harper has published two more books: The Survivors and The Exiles. The former was another book club read (4 for 4), and I had trouble getting into it. To be fair though, that was around the time that I was putting down a lot of books that I would otherwise enjoy and ended up only doing rereads of lighter material). I would like to give it another chance, but it is with my aunt in Taranaki, so it may be a while before I get it back again. The latter was a 2022 release and is one bought shortly after release but have not yet gotten to (like so many books!). I have seen that it has a return of Aaron Falk, but I don’t know anything more about it. It’s a book I will likely read this year.

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