I love finding a new author and I was particularly captivated – as an aspiring author – by the backstory and success of Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry. The story seemed to really hit a chord, scooping up award after award and all of this rapid success on the back of a career change (from journalism so hardly the biggest stretch to be fair) and an online fiction writing course. The backstory and how it appealed to me as a writer aside, I loved The Dry and couldn’t put it down; I’m a fan of crime fiction and have read more than my fair share over the years so know a good procedural romp when I see one and it’s a cracker. I particularly loved that it was set in drought stricken, rural Australia when many of my fave crime authors are American and the novels are set in the U.S; it’s great to get behind an Aussie author! So being quite the fangirl, I was so pleased to see her second novel come out but also hesitant as knew that The Dry was a hard act to follow. But follow it she did, and she did a pretty good job to be fair. So, if you’re contemplating giving it a read, here’s my short, sharp review of Forces of Nature by Jane Harper.
So, what did I like? I enjoyed the sense of place that she managed to instil; in her first novel she portrayed the sticky outback, decimated by drought and the simmering tensions of a community whose livelihoods live and die by the harsh Australian weather, whereas this time we get to feel the claustrophobia and building terror of the (fictional) Giralang mountain range 5 hours outside of Melbourne where five women get hopelessly lost on a corporate team building weekend. And under the intertwined gums, camping in increasingly harsh conditions and trying to distinguish between identical paths that confuse and lead them astray, secrets come to light and relationships start to fracture as the hopelessness of the situation starts to wreak havoc physically and psychologically.
5 go in to the trail and 4 come out and the subtle change in viewpoints and movement back and forth in time (from the present day to the eventful days that the women spend trying to navigate themselves back to safety) build suspense, pace and a sense of nothing being as it had seemed; you really start to question who the women are and what really went on in there and Harper does this really well.
I enjoyed meeting Aaron Falk again – I do love a good series and getting to know characters – and it was enjoyable to see him in a different setting. I enjoyed the progression of the series, seeing him at home – and with his newish partner – and the dynamic that that brings. I did feel that he lacked a little depth however and hope that we get to see more of that (and him) in subsequent stories and wonder whether I felt more engagement with him in The Dry as it was set in his home town and the story was a personal one whereas this is business as usual for him; we meet him investigating a prospective missing person linked to a case that he’s investigating as part of the financial crime division that he works within. The little character development nods with the almost imperceptible ‘moment’ with his partner and musings about his relationship with his dad seem almost cursory and I would have loved for his character to have been taken to the next stage and more backstory revealed.
And that goes for the broader cast of characters really. They were interesting enough, but I felt as if they were sketched very lightly and that I was watching them from the outside so wasn’t wholly invested in who had done what and what was going to happen next e.g. Jill, the CEO, who I kept expecting to hear more about along with her relationship with the suspected dodgy dealings at her family’s company; or the twins and Beth’s almost caricature like naughty to Bree’s nice. And I don’t know whether they were deliberate plot red herrings – or the result of an overactive imagination – but I imagined a few twists and turns that didn’t eventuate (like the excursion host Chase who keeps disappearing at inopportune moments) and assumed characters would play a role that didn’t, so all played out in a fairly straight forward way at the end which was a bit disappointing. And I’m really not sure whether the addition/sub plot of the serial killer’s son on the loose was necessary other than perhaps as a device to build fear and fuel their imaginations as they get stranded in the cabin with the sinister, blood-soaked mattress stuffed in the corner.
Reading this back, I realise that I am being a wee bit more negative than I planned to be because do you know what, I like Aaron Falk as a character, it was an easy read and I wouldn’t have boshed it in a couple of sittings if I hadn’t enjoyed it. I think I probably just expected to love it as much as I loved The Dry and didn’t quite – and that’s always a little disappointing isn’t it?!