It’s always a good day when you open a new novel for the first time, but never more so than when it’s author is Jane Harper and the book in question is one you didn’t think you would have the opportunity to read for the next few months. Imagine my delight when my summer vacation to the UK landed me in a bookstore near my inlaws’ home, where I quickly realized that Jane Harper’s new novel, The Lost Man, was already out in paperback! The bookseller at the till asked me if I had read either of her previous two novels, as he’d heard they were ‘quite’ good, but doubted they could be better than this one. I smiled, knowing that all the omens were positive.
Regular blog readers will know that I LOVED The Dry and for anything to beat it, would take quite some doing. All I can say is that…….. The Lost Man is every bit as good and maybe, just maybe, if I had read this first I might have thought it better, but I doubt it. Yes, I had enjoyed Harper’s second book, Force of Nature, although I didn’t think it quite compared, but with this she has done the unthinkable and produced another really outstanding piece of fiction.
The Lost Man, like its predecessors, is set in the desolate Australian outback and focuses on a single family, The Brights. Cameron Bright is discovered dead, miles from his car, by the stockman’s grave, the only notable landmark in a barren wilderness. An experienced farmer, who knew the territory well, it is hard to imagine how he could have died in the middle of nowhere, without his vehicle or water. His semi-estranged brother Nathan returns to the family home to address unanswered questions and find clues as to what had been going on in Cameron’s life and how he had come to die under such odd circumstances.
In this novel Harper has ditched Aaron Falk, the erstwhile detective in both The Dry and Force of Nature and instead keeps the characters to the bare minimum. This is a story all about family, for better and for worse and whilst there are detectives in this book, they are relatively insignificant when it comes to plot development. As a result, there’s a sense of claustrophobia in The Lost Man, similar to the oppressive heat described in The Dry, that brings the novel and additional intensity. How can anyone have done anything when everybody knows each other and there’s nowhere to go, but equally what has happened when suicide doesn’t appear to make sense?
Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!