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FORCE OF NATURE
by Jane Harper
Flatiron Books, February 2018
336 pages
$25.99
ISBN: 1250105639


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jane Harper's second novel featuring financial crimes investigator Aaron Falk throws readers into a nightmare scenario: a weekend devoted to a corporate team-building exercise. Five men and five women who work at a boutique accounting firm in Australia go out into the bush to build team spirit among leaders of the firm and their subordinates, following a course set by a company specializing in these outdoor adventures. As the book opens, the men have arrived back to base camp after two nights trekking and camping out in thickly wooded hills. The women are late. Then later. Finally four of them straggle in, injured, traumatized, and missing one of their team. Where's Alice?

That's what Aaron Falk and his partner want to know, because Alice has been feeding them documents essential to an investigation. Just before the team-building weekend they'd pressured her to deliver documents necessary to prosecute the accounting firm for criminal money laundering. She had been cooperating with police for weeks. Did one of the firm find out Or could she be the victim of a notorious criminal who had roamed these dark and tangled woods? Though the serial killer was arrested long ago, his reputation lingers and the whereabouts of his son who might have participated are unknown.

The story unfolds in two timelines. As Aaron and his partner work with local law enforcement to find the missing woman, we learn what happened among the women during those hours as they followed a map through the bush, seeking warmth and food and a place to pitch their tents. Bit by bit, we come to know them: two sisters who have a history of friction, two friends from school who harbor old resentments, and the company's director, who would much rather not be stumbling through the wilderness with a blister on her heel, forced into it by her outdoorsy brother who helps run the family business.

Once again, Harper makes the landscape a significant player in the unfolding story. Unlike the drought-blistered farmland of THE DRY, this place is hilly, damp, cold, and bewildering. It's impossible to keep your bearings in this claustrophobic wilderness where the map doesn't show all the paths and the lowering clouds make it hard to tell directions. Once you're in those woods, you can't be sure you'll get out. The ratcheting tension among the women is beautifully maintained as we put together the pieces with those searching for Alice. Though very different in mood and temperature from her first novel, FORCE OF NATURE is another compelling read.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, February 2018

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