EXCERPT: The track eventually led to the town of Balamara – a single street, really – which catered loosely for a scattered population that could almost fit into one large room when gathered together. Fifteen hundred kilometres further east lay Brisbane and the coast.
At scheduled times during the year, the sky above the stockman’s grave would vibrate with the roar of a helicopter. The pilots worked the land from the air, using noise and movement to herd cattle over distances the size of small European countries. For now, though, the sky loomed empty and large.
Later – too late – a helicopter would fly over, deliberately low and slow. The pilot would spot the car first, with its hot metal winking. The grave, some distance away, would draw his attention only by chance as he circled around and back in search of a suitable landing site.
The pilot would not see the dust circle. It was the flash of blue material against the red ground that would catch his eye. A work shirt, unbuttoned and partially removed. The temperature the past few days had hit forty-five degrees at the afternoon peak. The exposed skin was sun-cracked.
Later, those on the ground would see the thick and thin marks in the dust and would fix their eyes on the distant horizon, trying not to think about how they had been made.
The headstone threw a small shadow. It was the only shade in sight and its blackness was slippery, swelling and shrinking as it ticked around like a sundial. The man had crawled, then dragged himself as it moved. He had squeezed into that shade, contorting his body into desperate shapes, kicking and scuffing the ground as fear and thirst took hold.
He had a brief respite as night fell, before the sun rose and the terrible rotation started again. It didn’t last as long on the second day, as the sun moved higher in the sky. The man had tried though. He had chased the shade until he couldn’t any more.
The circle in the dust fell just short of one full revolution. Just short of twenty-four hours. And then, at last, the stockman finally had company, as the earth turned and the shadow moved on alone, and the man lay still in the centre of a dusty grave under a monstrous sky.
ABOUT ‘THE LOST MAN’: Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland. They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…
MY THOUGHTS: I cried several times during this read, tears slipping silently down my face as my heart broke with grief for this fractured family. Liz, family matriarch, lost her husband, Carl, some years ago. A hard, unforgiving man, he was not greatly missed by his family.
Nathan, eldest son, lost his wife Jacqui. She took off to Brisbane with their son Xander, blithely ignoring the custody agreement and almost breaking Nathan both emotionally and financially as he fights for access to his son. He has also lost the support of the locals, effectively isolating him. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to leave for both financial and practical reasons, and although at times he hates the place, sometimes, quite a lot of the time, he feels connected to the outback in a way he loves.
Then golden boy Cameron is found dead miles from where he ought to be. What was he doing there and why is his car, full of life-saving water and supplies, almost ten kilometres away? He leaves behind a wife, Isle, and two daughters.
Bub is the youngest son, the one who has never really fitted in, never been thought of as up to much, never given any say or real responsibility.
Harry Bledsloe, ‘Uncle Harry’, though not actually any blood relation, has worked on the three and a half thousand square kilometre Burley Downs since before any of the boys were born.
Simon and Katy are the latest in a string of backpackers employed at the station to help out – Katy around the house and with the girls schooling, and Simon wherever he’s needed. But Sophie, the elder of Cam and Isle’s two girls doesn’t believe they are who they say they are. And why was Jenna Moore, from Cameron’s distant past, suddenly trying to contact him?
The Lost Man, in my opinion, is the best book that Jane Harper has written to date, and I have now read them all. She has captured the isolation, not only the physical but the mental, of living in the outback where your closest neighbour may be three hours away. Not only has she captured the landscape, but the people who inhabit it, their secrets, their grudges, and their loyalty. She slowly reveals family tensions and secrets that turn what we think we know about these people on its head, culminating in a heartwrenching denouement.
This was a library book, but I am going to buy my own copy. This is a book that I will want to read again and that has earned a place on my ‘forever’ shelf.
THE AUTHOR: Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK, and now lives in Melbourne. This is her third novel.
DISCLOSURE: I borrowed my copy of The Lost Man by Jane Harper and published by Pan Macmillan Australia from the Waitomo District Library. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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