“Force of Nature” by Jane Harper, New York : Flatiron Books, 2018.
Five women go on a hike. Only four return, and each woman’s version of events is slightly different.
From this gripping premise to the satisfying conclusion, Jane Harper’s thriller is a tight, enjoyable read. Where the book shines the most is with the atmospheric descriptions of Australia’s beautiful yet wild wilderness, and the multi-dimensional characters who harbor secret pasts and unspoken frictions in their relationships with each other.
“Force of Nature” follows Federal Agent Aaron Falk and his partner Agent Carmen Cooper from Melbourne as they are called to investigate a hiker who has gone missing in the Australian bush. It is actually the second book about the agent, however it reads very well as a stand-alone novel. (The other title is “The Dry;” ask your local library for more information.)
The missing woman, Alice Russell, is part of a group that is hiking the trails for a weekend as part of a corporate retreat. On the second day, the group loses their way and disasters begin to befall. As they fight for survival, secrets are revealed, relationships are tested, and the groups is forced to make decisions they never imagined having to make.
It turns out that Alice has been feeding information to Agent Falk and his partner as they investigate the company she works for, under suspicion of it being used as an umbrella for illicit financial schemes. Alice’s personality is revealed to be harsh and arrogant at best, cruel and hurtful at worst. She has altercations and complicated relationships with each of the other women in her group.
The tension builds around the questions: Where is Alice? Is she dead or alive? Did she run away as the group claims or did something more sinister befall her? Did a higher-level executive in her company find out about her assisting the feds in their investigation of their business practices? Did one of her colleagues finally snap under her disdainful treatment of them?
This is a quick read with a twisty plot, memorable characters, and believable relationship dynamics. The descriptions of the setting will pull you into the eerie Australian landscape as the hunt for the missing woman ensues.
Jenna Beers is a Circulation Assistant at the Graham Public Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.