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Force of Nature


Force of Nature

"Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two, Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you."

That quote opens the prologue to Jane Harper's stellar sophomore effort, FORCE OF NATURE. The setting is unique and certainly foreign to most: unchartered, woodland territory deep within the isolated bushland area of Australia. Things start off with a bang, and intrigues continue to grow quietly page by page.

Five female colleagues from a typical corporate workplace firm called BaileyTennants find themselves in this scary territory as part of a team-building exercise. There is also a group of five men from the same office on their own journey within the very same area. The idea is that the small teams will work independently to survive the rough terrain, overcome certain obstacles, and meet up at the end of each day at a predetermined rendezvous spot.

Things become worrisome when the women miss one of their scheduled daily check-ins. There is limited to no cell phone coverage and essentially no way to reach them. Eventually, they are spotted and in bad physical shape. Cuts, bruises and even a snake bite are just some of the harm that has been suffered by the female team. The worst part of all is that only four of them make it out of the woods, and the missing fifth woman is nowhere to be found.

"Harper is definitely not guilty of a sophomore slump, and FORCE OF NATURE proves that she is on her way to becoming a household name and must-read author."

Investigating the case are Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk and his colleague/work partner, Carmen Cooper. The missing woman is Alice Russell, and Falk and Cooper will have their hands full sorting out not only the rough terrain of the Giralang Ranges but also the possible motives of her four team members. As the questioning and detailed interviews grow more intense, a picture begins to reveal the heavy air of tension in which the five women were existing --- and not just on account of their losing their way in the Ranges. More than one of the other women may have had reason to wish harm on Alice, and Falk is way too swift to believe that she merely disappeared. Foul play of some sort had to be involved.

Falk and Cooper go to the first thought on both of their minds --- the handiwork of a 20-year-old serial killer named Martin Kovac, who still may have those out there willing to continue his evil bidding. The only thing they have to work with are the few messages Alice was actually able to get through from her cell phone. She directly called Falk's office, and one of the voicemails merely contained a phrase that sounded like “hurt her.”

The private company that ran the team-building exercises is a respected organization called Executive Adventures, and they boast about never having a participant lost for long, let alone injured or worse. Falk and Cooper are forced to cast a wide net in order to snare the guilty party. Their questioning reveals that one of the chief executives and owners of the company was participating as part of the men's team. Serious allegations are being levied against him that include illegal business practices on an international level. Alice was a potential witness for the investigating team with knowledge that could be damaging. She also was on the team that included the sister of the accused corporate leader at BaileyTennants.

The alleged guilty corporate leader, Daniel Bailey, was witnessed by other members of the team-building activity saying something to Alice that frightened her. Falk recognizes that it may not be that easy and that this case is far more complex than mere corporate malpractice. With each passing chapter, more is revealed both in present time and in recent flashbacks. This keeps the tension quite alive, and you will be squirming in your seat trying to figure this one out.

Last year, Jane Harper hit the literary world smack between the eyes with her award-winning international debut, THE DRY, which also featured Aaron Falk in a far more personal tale. It was given the Gold Dagger Award by the Crime Writers' Association, and it was well deserved. It's hard to say, but I believe that this second novel may actually be a bit better as it operates as a true old-school mystery that is packed full of red herrings and misdirection. Harper is definitely not guilty of a sophomore slump, and FORCE OF NATURE proves that she is on her way to becoming a household name and must-read author.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on February 9, 2018

Force of Nature
by Jane Harper

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 125010565X
  • ISBN-13: 9781250105653