Book: “Force of Nature” by Jane Harper
Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, February 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?
When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.
But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.
Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?
Review: Remember when I read “The Dry”,, and while I wasn’t fully into it I was excited about the potential of Jane Harper’s character Aaron Falk and where we could go with him? Shortly after that review was posted, I got my hands on “Force of Nature”, the second book in the Aaron Falk Series. My ambivalence towards “The Dry” meant that “Force of Nature” sat on my really too high book pile for far too long, and that by the time I got to it I only had a couple of days to read it before it was due. But almost immediately after I started it, my interest was piqued by the reference to an off page character whom I knew right away was based on Ivan Milat, the Backpacker Killer. That little tidbit, combined with a mystery about a group of women who go into the mountains on a team building hike that leads to wilderness survival and the disappearance of one of them?
The mystery of “Force of Nature” is what happened to Alice, a cold and ambitious corporate worker, while she and four others went on a hike. Alice has connections to Falk and his partner Carmen, as she was giving them information of a nature that we are not necessarily privy to when our story begins. We switch off between two perspectives: the first is of Aaron and Carmen as they get tied into the investigation after Bree, Beth, Jill, and Lauren leave the woods without Alice. The second is what exactly did happen in the woods between the five women, and how the tensions that were already present between them could have erupted into something more than arguments and spats. Like most thrillers, we get to see the two narratives give us different insights, and we get to see the statements given to Falk unravel and transform into different realities as we go back into the disastrous hike itself. I knew that the four remaining women were going to be unreliable to Falk, but it was fun seeing it all unfold. I liked how it all slowly came together, and while I figured out a majority of the solution pretty early on, I still really enjoyed traipsing along the way as Falk and Carmen sleuthed. For me, the most fun of this story were in two things: the survival story of the five women (and how they quickly descended into paranoia and belligerence), and the hints and clues to Ivan Milat (known as Martin Kovac in this book) and the horrific serial murders he committed. For those who don’t know, Milat found backpackers and campers in the Belangelo State forest in New South Wales, Australia, and killed them in awful, violent ways. He’d then leave their bodies off trail in the forest. He’s officially responsible for seven murders, but in reality it was probably many more. The possibility that these characters might not only have the elements and each other to fear, but ALSO a crazed murderer, is really my kind of cup of tea, and it gave this book the oomph that REALLY made it a fun read.
But Harper has also given us a bit more to chew on with the characters this time. I don’t know if it’s because this time it’s not as personal for Falk, or because it isn’t seen mostly through his eyes, but I found myself more taken in by this group than I was by those in “The Dry”. I loved his partner Carmen, with whom he has some undefinable heat that neither of them are willing or able to explore, because she is very sensible and a good foil for Falk. She has his back, but also can read people in her own right. And plus, I like the heat that they share, even if nothing very well may come of it. And I also liked seeing the awfulness of Alice, and how the other women in her group have had problems with her in one way or another. Harper does a very good job of creating a ruthless person who very well may have a target on her back, while still giving her enough humanity (mostly through her daughter) that she doesn’t feel like a caricature who doesn’t deserve to be found in one piece. And if the Aaron Falk stories are going to be like this, where Falk is there as a grounding force of good, but with most of the focus on a different cast of characters for each book, I would be totally here for that. It clicked so well this time that I will almost be more frustrated if we go back to the structure of “The Dry”, because I felt like the groove I wanted from that book was more present here.
“Force of Nature” was a thrilling and solid mystery, and now that I have finally fully climbed aboard the Aaron Falk train I am very excited to see where it goes next. Fans of survival thrillers with a side of catty drama should absolutely pick this one up, and you may not even need to start with “The Dry” to fully enjoy this one.
Rating 8: A strong second helping of a new series, “Force of Nature” brings some focus off of Aaron Falk and centers it on complex and interesting characters.
Find “Force of Nature” at your library using WorldCat!
Previously Reviewed: “The Dry”.