Force Of Nature – Jane Harper (2017)

Australian-based author Jane Harper made a surprising huge splash with her 2016 debut “The Dry” (see what I did there?) which scooped Crime Book Of The Year awards in Australia and over here.  It introduced financial crime expert Aaron Falk, although it took him very much out of his professional comfort zone, as he returned to his small home town and became embroiled in a murder-suicide case involving a close friend.  I really appreciated the author’s handling of this whodunnit with the additional tensions of a community in crisis intensified by severe drought.  A 2020 film adaptation wasn’t as good as the book, as it was just a little bit, for want of a better word, dry.

The author has gone on to continued acclaim and commercial success with five published novels to date.  This is the second of three to feature Aaron Falk.  It has a different feel, is more standard thriller fare, and for me does not work as well.  A team bonding exercise for a family-run company BaileyTennants in the hostile Giralang Ranges goes wrong when of a group of five women only four return.  It just so happens that Aaron Falk is investigating the company for financial wrongdoings and his main contact within the company is the missing woman, so he together with new partner, Carmen, get very involved, although I’m not sure why they needed to be at the site where the woman went missing nor did I fully understand what they were investigating and what they needed from her.

Their narrative and the search is interspersed with the events of the hike that went wrong and I did get a little frustrated with the structure of working up to something exciting and then switching to the other narrative strand. Falk felt a little tacked on in this occasion and I think the book could have worked just as well as a stand-alone.  There was also the issue that I did not care that much about the BaileysTennants management and the employees undertaking the team building.  Midway through we move away from the intensity of the ranges to allow a sub-plot to develop and it was here I felt myself getting more involved and I took that with me when we returned to the search for the missing woman.  I did want to know what happened and there were twists I did not anticipate but after the impact “The Dry” made this felt more like standard genre fiction which was fun to read but unlikely to make that much of a lasting impression.  

Force Of Nature was published in 2018 by Little, Brown.  I read the Abacus paperback edition.

The Dry- Jane Harper (2016) – A Murder They Wrote Review



Here’s a book with extremely good word of mouth from readers returning one of our library copies.  It has people itching to tell others how much they enjoyed it.  Since the paperback edition arrived at the end of last year it has become one of our most borrowed books, so I’ve been patiently waiting for my turn.

 Jane Harper’s debut also gained much critical acclaim from reviewers and from her crime writer peers. (“One of the most stunning debuts I’ve ever read- David Baldacci; “Stunningly atmospheric- Val McDermid; “Enthrals from the very first page – CJ Box).  Writers of great repute were queuing up to say good things about this.  Needless to say, I had extremely high expectations.

 Aaron Falk, a policeman who specialises in financial crime, returns to the small Australian country town where he grew up to attend a funeral.  His closest childhood friend has apparently shot his wife and son and turned the gun on himself.  As the small community are shocked and outraged the dead man’s parents want answers.  Tensions are compounded by a lengthy drought which has brought this rural town to its knees and also by Falk’s return itself.  This is his first visit since a tragic incident which had rocked the community years before.  Everyone has secrets and it may be these which have just triggered the present-day tragedy.

This is a well thought out and carefully handled whodunnit with the additional tensions of a community in crisis.  Harper is a British author who has lived in Australia for the last decade and her sense of location is strong but also with a clear understanding of being an outsider.  In many ways and I’m not sure why the author it brought to mind was another Brit who has set his first two novels in small town America, Chris Whitaker. However, “The Dry” did not win me over as much as Whitaker’s excellent “All The Wicked Girls” (2017).  I have this year read another book which on publication was very much compared to “The Dry” and marketed to the same audience, “Retribution” written by Aussie farmer and ex-miner Richard Anderson.  I think in terms of plot handling and character development Harper’s novel is considerably stronger.

 What I would have liked a little more ramped up is the intensity of this lengthy drought (two years without water) and the heat playing a stronger part in the dynamics of these people rather than their present actions being motivated by the events of their past but I’m niggling here.  This is a very readable, strong debut which might not have matched those too high expectations I’d built up over the past year or so but it certainly fooled me with twists, was always involving and so highly satisfactory in the way the plot threads were all so well pulled together.


The Dry was published by Little, Brown in 2016 in the UK.  I read the 2017 Abacus paperback version.