Book Title: Force Of Nature
Author: Jane Harper
Series: Aaron Falk #2
Genres: Crime Fiction, Police Procedural, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Pub Date: 2/6/18
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 Giralang Ranges 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 – in just a matter of days she was to provide the documents that will bring down the company she works for.
Falk discovers that far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. But does it include murder?
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.
It’s no secret that I adored Jane Harper’s 2017 (US) debut The Dry, but that didn’t ensure I would love her sophomore novel (and follow up in the Aaron Falk series) Force Of Nature. So many times I’ve read a solid entry from a debut author, only to be let down by their subsequent stories and eventual realization that maybe they were just a “one hit wonder”. Not here though; Harper has proven she deserves to write alongside the big dogs and has cultivated quite an international following, which isn’t an easy feat for someone relatively new to the scene. Even though this book has a completely different feel than the first, I think it works well and is a worthy follow up to The Dry.
The greatest difference in Harper’s two novels is the style, format, and flow of the plot. In our first novel, there was more of a traditional police procedural investigation. In The Dry we had a gruesome domestic drama with classic murder mystery, while sprinkling in some backstory for our main character Falk. We get a straightforward introduction with a typical back and forth of his childhood experiences and what brought him to where he is now. In Force Of Nature, things are switched up a big and, while it is still a procedural, it’s not as rigid in it’s investigation and our team has to improvise and think of new ways to solve a mystery with no evidence and no body. There was definitely a higher level of suspense throughout, a taut tension that is only enhanced by the back and forth narrative of the ladies’ hike and present day investigation.
There was a lot more going on in this book, and I think that is attributed to a different style of characterization between novels one and two. Novel one was all about the slow burn murder mystery, and we are introduced to various characters in the investigation and get to know them in a classic “Agatha Christie” style, if you will. Novel two is still a slow burn, but I felt the growing suspense made the pages fly by much faster this go around. There are multiple side plots interjected here, some are red herrings and others are vital to the story, but the characterization is much more of a mixed bag of goods; chapter POVs are constantly being switched around and, just as we get a grip on one person, we find ourselves following a new one. This worked REALLY well for me and felt it kept the shorter chapters moving quickly while keeping my brain whirring.
Harper took a risk by cultivating such an unlikable character in Alice, but I think it was beautifully done and added an extra layer of emotional tension that the story wouldn’t have had otherwise. We get little pieces of who she is from all the characters except Alice herself, and I felt this was one of the strongest aspects the story had to offer. I love a tale where each character is tied to the others in various ways that do not become apparent until the conclusion, and that’s exactly what the author delivers with Force Of Nature. The underlying theme of how our humanity and moral beliefs tend to take a backseat when we feel threatened and in danger was so incredible; the subtle tinge of pack mentality is present initially and then grows as the peril increases and ramps up the heart rate in a way few books are able to present in my reading these days.
The final chapter gave me a bit of hope that we may be revisiting Aaron’s hometown to, not only check in on some remaining characters from The Dry, but also to gain more insight into his personal life and his tumultuous relationship with his father that he is still processing. I really enjoyed this angle of the story and felt Falk’s emotional walls starting to come down was a huge step in connecting the reader with his character further. If you’re looking for a top notch procedural full of suspense and quality writing, look no further. You’ll want to start with The Dry if you’re new to the series, as these books are not really meant to be read as stand alone novels, but trust me-it’s worth your time! Highly recommended and obviously I’m beyond excited for the next installment.
*Many thanks to Lisa Jordan for sending me a copy all the way from Australia! You officially wear the crown of best Goodreads friend. ❤