Tuesday 31 July 2018
JANE HARPER - FORCE OF NATURE (2017)
FIVE WENT OUT. FOUR CAME BACK...
Is Alice here? Did she make it? Is she safe? In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four had asked after Alice's welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.
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 landscape 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 - and Alice knew secrets. About the company she worked for and the people she worked with.
Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew.
Not a book I had intended to read though with an approaching holiday, my current stash of books still in storage and the need to find something appealing to both my wife and myself, one that leaped off the shelf at the supermarket along with the sun cream. Not a bad choice either.
Two days to read it and if the four hour flight had been a bit longer, it might possibly have been less.
Australian setting which was a plus. Mainly a wilderness setting, but not the outback, with a few trips back and forth to the city.
A couple of cops, recently paired up in a financial crimes unit, one of whom Aaron Falk appeared in Harper's well-received debut, The Dry; the other a female partner. Neither of them with excess baggage or irritating compulsions or addictions. There's a good chemistry between them and levels of respect.
The crime - if indeed it is one. A missing women gone walkabout after a team-bonding exercise in the bush. Our two cops involvement stems from the fact that the woman is an inside source in an ongoing investigation into money laundering at the company involved in the exercise.
I did like the premise of this and the construction of the narrative which dips back and forth from the present and the status of the investigation and the timeline of the bush trek, involving five women with a brief crossover with the men's party on the same event. Harper had me hooked with the history and back stories both far-reaching and more recent between the five very different participants. Past area history with an infamous women killer who operated in the area also casts a shadow over events.
The women at the centre of our story, Alice Russell wasn't especially sympathetic and I could have quite happily disappeared her myself at certain points in the book. That said she has her own difficulties and pressing familial worries that mitigate some of her awfulness.
Our other four are a mixed bunch - a pair of sisters (might be twins, I forget and don't have the book to hand to check) one trying to get on with her career and resentful of the other one, Beth (I think). Beth has a checkered past comprising addictions and low level criminality and some transgressions against her sibling, which are proving difficult to forgive. The other two in the party are the sister of the company boss, herself possibly complicit in the alleged money laundering and with possible motive for harming Alice and the last, another needy individual, name escapes me but with a long history with Alice. Some shared memories and secrets and not all of them fond.
Before Alice disappears there's a lot of tension and an ever increasing desperation as the party goes off-track and bickers and bitches about the correct course of action to right themselves. Ironically teamwork is what is needed at this moment in time, but predictably is in short supply.
Why did she disappear and does she return? I bought the ending, I liked how events transpired. I thought the conclusion was well executed and neatly wrapped up. I think I'd be happy to back-track and read Harper's The Dry (just as well as I found a recent bargain buy copy) and whatever she knocks out next. If it's another one with Falk and his work partner - happy days.
4 from 5
Read in July, 2018
Published - 2017
Page count - 432
Source - purchased copy
Format - paperback