Last week I confessed to being a mystery junkie and, while I am continuing to make a conscious effort to read more broadly, I am physically incapable of avoiding a new Jane Harper novel. Anyone who's come into the bookstore and asked for a mystery recommendation has probably heard me talk about The Dry. It is absolutely one of my favorite books of the last few years, and last year's follow-up, Force of Nature (recently released in paperback), was excellent, too. Yesterday marked the release of Harper's newest book, The Lost Man. This is a standalone, not part of the Aaron Falk detective series; however, it's got all of the trademarks of Harper's storytelling that I know and love.
Atmospheric is probably the word used most often to describe Harper's work and with good reason. Her mysteries are all set in the Australian Outback and she is a master at painting a picture of that beautiful and brutal landscape that you experience with all of your senses. The Outback is no joke and her characters are often battling to survive it as much as any of the human foes in their stories. There are rules that must be followed if you want to survive here. The Outback is indiscriminate and absolutely unforgiving in its enforcement of these rules. Even when you follow them to the letter, there is no guarantee that nature won't prevail.
In The Lost Man, two brothers meet at the remote fence line separating their cattle ranches. The third brother, Cam, lies dead at their feet having apparently succumbed to the Outback's brutal elements. They live in an extremely isolated section of Australia where, with a three-hour drive between their homes, they are one another's closest neighbors. Cam was the middle child and the one who ran the family homestead. What would cause him to go out alone, with no supplies, to an area without shelter at the hottest time of the year?
While the family mourns the loss, suspicion starts to take hold and and a complex family saga begins to unravel. This is what Harper does best. She masterfully weaves a complex tale that is still highly readable and steadily builds tension that compels you forward to an end that is extremely satisfying, even if it doesn't deliver a straight answer to every single question. This is another powerful and unflinching mystery set against a formidable landscape that, like all of her preceding stories, left me counting down the days to the next one.