Killer takes a hike Adrian McKinty

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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

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