Killer takes a hike Adrian McKinty
Force of Nature By Jane Harper Macmillan, 384pp, $32.99
With 150,000 copies in print, rights sold to 20 countries and the movie option bought by Reese Witherspoon, Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry is the runaway success story of Australian publishing this year.
Set in the fictional Victorian town of Kiewarra, The Dry, published in February, introduces Melbourne federal police officer Aaron Falk. He travels home to investigate the alleged murder-suicide of his best friend and his family.
A taut, twisty mystery, it is also a book heavily invested in setting and atmosphere, with shrewd echoes of JG Ballard’s The Drought and Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright. Harper deftly moves between different time periods and character points of view to offer a complete picture of a town in northern Victoria that is very much on the skids.
Emigrating to Australia as a child, returning to England for university and then coming back to Melbourne again, Harper has the advantage of being an outsider-insider. She learned her craft working in newspapers in Geelong and Melbourne and The Dry feels like her fourth or fifth novel, not her first
I once asked Harper why no one swore in the book and she explained she was following the Lee Child rule: for consistency either have characters swearing all the time or not at all — which is the answer an old pro would give.
So after a triumph like The Dry, what do you do for a follow-up? In the music industry they call it “the difficult second album syndrome”. There’s a lot of pressure to strike while the iron is hot. Some artists crack completely and we never hear from them again. Others produce a hastier, less accomplished work. In the mystery genre there are a lot of novels with ‘‘girl’’ or ‘‘death’’ or ‘‘blood’’ in the title.
Fortunately Harper has avoided all these pit- falls, producing an assured second book in what is bound to be a long series of adventures featuring Detective Falk.
Force of Nature takes place a few months after the events of The Dry as Falk recuperates in his St Kilda apartment. In the middle of the night he receives a call from Alice Russell, a young woman he’s been investigating for potential fraud in the accountancy firm of BaileyTennants.
Alice has turned mole, hunting for evidence of systemic fraudulent practices among the company’s higher-ups in return for a plea deal. But a day before she is due to give Falk the evidence he needs, she goes missing in the ‘‘Giralang Ranges’’, where the management of the firm has gone on a ‘‘team-building exercise’’ (three words to strike fear even into the stoutest of hearts).
As in The Dry, Harper splits the action temporally and with different points of view, so we