The Dry was one of my favourite books of last year. Jane Harper’s debut had everything I want in a novel – a gripping plot, strong characterisation and a real sense of place. I recommended it to everyone I know.
Not surprisingly, I’ve been eagerly anticipating her second book – and the good news is that Force of Nature is out this month. Even better, I’m delighted to report that it’s a corker. In fact some reviewers have declared it to be even better than The Dry. I wouldn’t go that far but it’s definitely just as good.
Like its predecessor, Force of Nature is set in the Australian outback. But while Harper’s lead character from last time round, police officer Aaron Falk, makes a second appearance, the story is fundamentally that of five women who embark on a two-day teambuilding expedition through the bush. The tantalising strapline on the front cover sums up the plot – “Five went out, Four came back…” How can a reader not be hooked by a premise like that?
Once again, Harper’s novel is beautifully written and brilliantly paced. The story of Alice Russell’s disappearance is told in alternate chapters – first from the point of view of the women on the trek, all of them work colleagues but some more senior than others, then from the perspective of the investigating officers. It switches back and forth from the challenging conditions the women encounter in the bush to their lives back home in Melbourne. Most satisfyingly of all, Harper kept me guessing and I didn’t work out what on earth had happened to the prickly, complex Alice until the denouement. I couldn’t put the book down until I had finished it, reading at breakneck speed into the middle of the night because of my desperation to discover the truth about the five women.
Force of Nature by Jane Harper (Little, Brown, £12.99)