EXCERPT: Jill swung the beam slowly across the site. The white light stripped out most colours, washing everything with monochrome shades. The path they’d walked along looked thin and uneven, and the fire pit at her feet was black at the centre. A silent circle of trees grew all around, their trunks luminous under the beam. Beyond, the bushland was black. A shadow caught Jill’s eye as she swept the light along and she stopped. She moved the beam back, more slowly this time.
A slender figure stood motionless at the very edge of the clearing and Jill jumped, nearly stumbling again and sending the light bouncing in a crazy pattern. She caught herself, steadying her hand. The light shook very gently as she focused on the beam.
Jill breathed out. It was only Lauren. Her tall, thin frame was almost absorbed by the vertical lines of the trees and the dark space beneath them.
‘Lauren, my God,you gave me a fright,’ Jill called. Her pulse still felt a little fast. ‘What are you doing?’
Lauren stood frozen, back to the group, staring into the darkness.
She put up her hand. ‘Shh.’
They all heard it at once. A crack. Jill held her breath, her ears ringing in the void. Nothing. Then another crack. This time the broken rhythm of debris snapping underfoot was unmistakable.
Jill took a fast step backwards. Lauren turned, her face grey in the stark light.
‘There’s someone out there.’
ABOUT ‘FORCE OF NATURE’: Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along a muddy track.
Only four come out on the other side.
The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and encourage teamwork and resilience. At least, that’s what the corporate retreat website advertises.
Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker, Alice Russell. Because Alice knew secrets, about the company she worked for and the people she worked with.
The four returning women tell Falk a tale of fear, violence and fractured trust during their days in the remote Australian bushland. And as Falk delves into the disappearance of Alice, he begins to suspect some dangers ran far deeper than anyone knew.
MY THOUGHTS: I love Force of Nature. I really liked The Dry, but I found Force of Nature far more suspenseful. And I love suspense.
We first met Aaron Falk, AFP investigator, in The Dry when he returned to his home town of Kiewarra for a funeral. Force of Nature is set in the fictional Giralang Ranges. Instead of arid land where it hasn’t rained for two years, there is rain, bushland with ravines and gullies, waterfalls, and snakes, every bit as harsh and unforgiving as the desert.
We follow the women’s hike through this unfriendly terrain, learning about their relationships, rivalries, secrets and fears as they go. Interspersed with this is the police investigation and search for the missing Alice Russell, a woman who no one seems to particularly like, and who has a secret connection to Falk and Carmen.
Harper does a wonderful job of seamlessly moving from one point of view to another, the story flowing freely. The tension builds gradually, suspicion falling on each character in turn. I honestly had no idea who was responsible for Alice’s disappearance. Did she strike out on her own as she kept threatening to do, or are there more sinister forces at play?
Force of Nature is an excellent read, totally deserving of the full five stars.
THE AUTHOR: Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK, and now lives in Melbourne.
DISCLOSURE: I borrowed my copy of Force of Nature, by Jane Harper and published by Pan Macmillan Australia, from Waitomo District Library. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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