Tuesday, March 6, 2018

FORCE OF NATURE :: Jane Harper

A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness and is reprinted here with permission.

Australian Jane Harper took the mystery genre by storm with her debut, The Dry, which won numerous awards (Gold ABIA Book of the Year, Gold Dagger Crime Novel of the Year and Indie Book Award for Debut Fiction to name a few) and is being made into a motion picture. With Force of Nature, the stellar second entry in her Federal Agent Aaron Falk series, Harper has swerved about as far around a sophomore slump as one can get.

The briefest dip into the prologue results in stomach-tightening anticipation that begs the reading to continue: "Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No-one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you." Alice's failure to make the rendezvous point following a corporate retreat in the vast Giralang Ranges outside Melbourne--"land that was reluctant to let anything escape"--is of keen interest to Falk and his new partner; she is the key to their high-pressure investigation into her employer.

Still smarting from the events of The Dry, Falk heads to the dense forest to observe the search and interview the co-workers who returned without Alice, each with their own version of events. Although Falk is mostly outside the hunt and remains enigmatic, Harper skillfully uses him and retreat-participant flashbacks as perfect story lenses. Energy and atmosphere infuse the narrative as professional and personal relationships are mined for clues to determine Alice's ultimate fate.

STREET SENSE: I was impressed with Harper's use of her main protagonist mostly as an observer in the investigation which is the center of the book. I found it an interesting and somewhat ballsy choice, especially in the second book of a series, where the audience is still getting to know the character and there's so much to mine within him alone. The story didn't suffer one iota, and Harper still revealed more of Falk's innards, which keeps him as a developing character readers will want to revisit.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE:  This last bit of the book's prologue helped hook me: In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four women had asked after Alice's welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.

COVER NERD SAYS:  The cover is both nothing spectacular and eye-catching at the same time. It didn't tell me a lot about what might be inside, but the image, color palette and strong fonts are sufficient to intrigue. What I like most about the cover is that it goes well with The Dry, below, which is a great way to bring reader recognition to an ongoing series.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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