Force of Nature

Jane Harper's much anticipated follow-up to The Dry didn’t disappoint. I was hooked from the first page and devoured the novel in two days, reading late into the night.  

When Daniel Bailey, head of a small accounting firm, takes his team on a corporate retreat, he chooses a challenging 3-day hike through the infamous Giralang Ranges, where 20 years earlier a serial killer named Martin Kovac had fatally attacked four young women. Kovac had been sentenced to life in prison, but the ghost stories lingered.

Heading off into the bush for their team-building challenge, the five women follow one path and the five men follow another. Each group is armed with a map, a compass and enough food for the first day – but mobile phones are banned. Each night, at a designated camp spot, their next lot of food supplies await. Both teams are due back to the lodge by 12pm on Sunday.

However, only the men’s team makes the deadline. Finally, the women’s group emerges from the bush – late, dirty and bedraggled – but one of them is missing. What has become of Alice Russell, the pretty blond with a feisty nature?

As an added complication, Alice is a whistle blower in a money-laundering case involving Daniel Bailey’s firm – she’s been approached by Police Inspector Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen to access a series of internal contracts that are integral to building their case. She is due to hand over the contracts on Sunday evening after she’s completed the hike and returned to Melbourne.

As Falk and Carmen investigate the case, they can’t help but wonder if they’ve contributed to Alice’s disappearance.

Unlike The Dry, which was set in the midst of a desperate drought, this book takes place in cold, damp mountainous Victoria. But once again Harper’s writing is descriptive and atmospheric, so it’s easy to imagine yourself plodding through the eerie and treacherous Giralang Ranges.

Force of Nature has a hint of Picnic at Hanging Rock about it, with a woman missing in the bush; but it also reminded me of Lord of the Flies, with the downwards spiral from civilised to feral that occurs when people are desperate to survive.

Overall, I’d give this novel 4.5 stars, compared to 5 stars for The Dry – it didn’t have quite as many twists and turns, but the writing is still excellent and the story is full of suspense.