If you know me at all, you will understand that I am not one of life’s happy campers. I can appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors without experiencing any desire at all to sleep in it. My back is designed to carry a simple day pack, not a tent or a stove. I value and love my friends and have no desire at all to ruin those relationships by becoming cranky and irritable with them due to a lack of sleep and a general feeling of filthiness and possibly hunger. If you were to make me camp with colleagues in the spirit of ‘team building’, then I would probably consign that trip to one of the circles of hell. If that trip were to take place in the Australian outback, then I think I would probably just have to resign. I don’t mind a bit of map reading, or indeed going away with folks, but please never ever try to put me in a tent!
Jane Harper’s second novel, Force of Nature, takes just this premise. A team building weekend, hiking and camping in the Australian outback, girls versus boys, five people per team. When the girls team shows up at the end of the course, both late and with only four members, the police are called in to investigate. Is Alice Russell alive or dead and what exactly happened between these women?
If you have read earlier reviews then you may have come across my thoughts on The Dry, Harper’s first book, which is one of those truly exceptional crime stories. It’s the kind of tale that you are compelled to read non stop while you go about your daily life, whether it be working, taking care of the kids or vacuuming. The Husband and I both devoured it in twenty-four hours flat. Books you feel like that about are always a hard act to follow and you buy their successors almost dreading certain disappointment.
The truth is Force of Nature doesn’t disappoint, but to be completely truthful, it isn’t The Dry either. It did take me a solid forty-eight hours to read whilst on vacation, which means that it’s a great read, but I don’t feel that it has the unforgettable quality of Harper’s first book. If you were a fan of Federal Agent Aaron Falk, then you’ll be pleased to know that he’s back, although this time it’s professional rather than personal (which sounds more ‘Die Hard’ than it is!) and once again, Harper evokes the quality of the outback beautifully. Frustratingly, what I loved most about this novel is the one thing that I can’t say without giving away the whole plot, but I can tell you it’s clever, very clever.
Harper is clearly a crime writer to follow and with her third novel already out and a movie version of The Dry in the works, I feel certain that we’ll be talking a lot more about her in the future.