I enjoyed The Dry and Force of Nature, and felt both were complex / multilayered mysteries (more robust than most) and think Harper does an amazing job of placing readers in the harsh Aussie outback, but I’ve not been as frantic a fan as many.
Although there’s a vague reference to her former novels (via the locale of The Dry) The Lost Man by Jane Harper is seemingly a standalone. It’s a mystery, but not in the traditional sense and it’s actually my favourite book of hers so far.
The Lost Man
by Jane Harper
Published by Macmillan Australia
on October 23rd 2018
Genres: General Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1743549105, 9781743549100
The man lay still in the centre of a dusty grave under a monstrous sky.
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 chance 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...
Uncovering the mystery of Cameron’s death is a bit of a slow burn. Almost everyone assumes he’s suicided but at the same time they’re surprised. They didn’t see it coming. Sure he’d been a bit maudlin for a few weeks but the bigger question is IF he was going to kill himself, why would he choose to do so by walking out into the middle of nowhere – knowing it wouldn’t be a quick or easy death.
Oldest of the three brothers, Nathan initially thinks it must be some sort of accident… but there appears to be no logical reason Cameron would leave the safety of his fully functioning vehicle (stocked with supplies) and walk kilometres without food or water (or shade).
The site of his death or the state of his vehicle (some distance away) however don’t suggest foul play.
Nathan can’t fathom it. Particularly when HE is the brother everyone has been worried about.
I commented in my review of Markus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay that I hadn’t read a lot of books about brothers and I mentioned the amazing job he did of their close bond.
The relationship between Nathan, Cameron and Bub here is very different. There’s a large age gap between Nathan and Bub (12 years) so while Nate and Cameron were close growing up, Nathan left when Bub was young. Harper keeps her cards close to her chest initially and there’s vague reference to minimal visits from Nathan to his brother’s property but we’re not sure why.
We soon learn however that Cal, the boys’ father was a hard man. Abusive towards his sons and most likely his wife, Liz. Nathan had left home as soon as he was able and after Cal’s death Cameron (and Bub) took over the family farm.
Nathan’s relationship with his son Xander is almost completely the opposite to that of his with own father, which was one seemingly borne of fear, threats and violence. Xander lives with his mother and will soon graduate from his posh private school in Brisbane. His court-mandated visits to his father are seemingly undertaken with great effort and sacrifice. The death of Cameron however is a turning point for the father and son. Xander’s confronted by the family history (and gets a dose of reality) and Nathan by the extent of Xander’s concern for his father’s psychological wellbeing.
We eventually learn about Nathan’s own estrangement (of sorts) from his family and an act that has had him alienated from town life for a decade and I appreciated the honesty from Nathan and the sense of his own guilt and regret in relation to this. He’s a complex lead character and I’m tempted to comment on his hidden depths though worried it’d sound a little cliched!
Harper takes us back to a number of pivotal moments in the family’s history and effortlessly places us there. It gives us a sympathy for the actions of those involved we might not otherwise have had.
No one is exactly investigating Cameron’s death, but Nathan (in particular) is trying to fathom it as he attempts to unpick the last few days and weeks of his brother’s life.
It’s only then secrets come to light; and the players are forced to ask themselves how well they know their family and loved ones and are forced to contemplate what they’re prepared to let them get away with. And finally, there’s a glimmer of light… as ‘we’ sense it may not be too late to set things right.
In reality the ‘mystery’ surrounding Cameron’s death (and his death itself obviously) is a byproduct of a tale that is really about families and their secrets. It’s about brothers and about fathers and sons (and their legacies). It’s about guilt and regret and it’s about love.
Set in remote Queensland (this time) this story is bleak in parts and Harper again does an amazing job at placing us in scenes and landscapes that are both desolate and ‘dazzling’ at the same time. Indeed, she again manages to mirror the unfolding plot with its environs….
They lived in a land of extremes in more ways than one. People were either completely fine, or very not. There was no middle ground. p 10
The Lost Man by Jane Harper will be published in Australia by Pan Macmillan and available from 23 October 2018.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.