Force of Nature by Jane Harper – review

Published by Little, Brown

Publication date – 8 February 2018

Source – review copy

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

Five women set out on a trek through the Bush, part of a corporate retreat. Only four of them return. AFP officer Aaron Falk has to find out what happened to Alice, and whether it’s linked to his latest case, a case where Alice was the whistleblower and chief witness.

Force of Nature is a welcome return for Aaron Falk, introduced in The Dry. I liked Aaron even more in this novel, there is a little more about his relationship with his father revealed but he still has an air of mystery surrounding him.

There is something claustrophobic about the story, despite it being set in the Girlang Ranges of Australia. The bush and the peaks close ranks on the women, making them and the reader feel more contained that would be expected. This sense of claustrophobia is also enhanced by the limited cast of characters.

The story alternates between the five women and their trek into the Ranges and to the present day and Falk and his colleague Carmen’s investigations into Alice’s disappearance.   I liked this style of narration and thought it worked well, building up the layers of the story. There were some strands of the story I would have liked to see develop more, but enough took place to keep me interested.

All of the women have issues and facets of their personality to dislike. Alice in particular is not portrayed as a nice person and this obviously reflects on the story as her interaction with the others unfolds. As the story progresses we see the relationships and social structure of the group break down, and the effect such a breakdown has on the situation the women find themselves in.

An entertaining read. I look forward to reading more from Jane Harper in the future.

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