Monday, September 3, 2018

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

This was my "last" summer read, and once again, I've got to say how much I enjoy Jane Harper's novels. 

Force of Nature is the follow up to The Dry, her first novel that is one of my top reads for the year. Once again, we join Federal Agent Aaron Falk, and his partner Carmen, as an investigation into money laundering by a well respected company turns deadly. This is a completely different novel than The Dry, but equally compelling. You can read this novel without reading The Dry, but of course it does help understand Aaron a bit if you have his background. Jane Harper doesn't go over what happened in The Dry, so this could be a stand alone.  

Aaron and Carmen have been working with Alice Russell, an employee at BaileyTennants. Long suspected of money laundering and other secretive illegal doings, BaileyTennants is a family owned business run by a brother and sister, Daniel and Jill Bailey. Their father started the business, and still keeps a hand in it. They have a sterling reputation, but underneath the gloss are illegal doings that have been going on for two generations. Aaron and Carmen are very close to having all the proof they need to put BaileyTennants out of commission, with the help of Alice. She's just got a few more key pieces of paperwork that she needs to give them. 

Only problem? Alice, along with four other women and five men, has gone on a three day corporate retreat into the wilderness--and Alice has disappeared. 
Aaron and Carmen travel to the Giralang Ranges, a rough bushland in Australia, to meet with investigators after Aaron receives a mysterious missed call from Alice on his cell phone. He's convinced something bad has happened to Alice, and it may be tied into her covert help on the investigation. 

The story bounces back and forth between the search for Alice, and the days leading up to her disappearance. This corporate retreat sounds like a nightmare. It's cold, rainy, windy, and the women and men are split up, with one map per group to find their way to checkpoints, where food and shelter await them. Both make it fine on the first night, but soon after, the women get lost, and things go from bad to worse. Add in the dynamics of the group: Jill, Alice, Lauren, Bree, and her sister, Beth. Bree is Alice's assistant, and Beth is the lowly clerk in the company. It's a mix of high up executives, middle management, and entry level positions. Each woman has issues: Alice is rude, and has the only cell phone of the group (she hid it and didn't turn it in, as required). Jill is the "boss", and Bree is trying to make a good impression so she can move up. Beth is a disaster; a recovering alcoholic with a strained relationship with her sister. Lauren has been slipping up at work, and is nervous, on edge, and painfully pale. All of the women bring something to the trip that becomes a factor in their journey. None of them like each other. None of them want to be on the retreat. 

Does anyone know Alice is working with the police? Are there other secrets each woman is keeping from the others? Does the notorious past of the Giralang Ranges as the playground of a serial killer have any bearing on their situation? 

Jane Harper makes you feel every miserable raindrop, the wet clothes, the hunger pangs, and the painful blisters as the women struggle to find their way through an ever increasing dangerous situation. Alice's cell phone is slowly losing power, and there's no service anywhere. She's desperate to get back, but why? As their situation becomes more fraught with danger, the tension rackets up and tempers blow. But what happens to Alice? 

Good stuff! It's a complete switcheroo from The Dry, where a two year drought made everything dry, dusty, and parched. Force of Nature is wet, stormy, cold, windy, and just plain uncomfortable. I found myself longing for a flannel shirt, chili, and a hot cup of coffee. In the middle of a hot and humid week in Iowa. Jane Harper is a master at setting the mood, the tone, and the feel of a place. 

Rating: 5/6 for another great novel by Jane Harper. She pulls you in, and won't let go until the last page. Anyone who likes thrillers--and these are set in Australia--will enjoy her writing. Interesting look at what motivates each of us to act, and the consequences we must live with when we do. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

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