The Lost Man
Jane Harper, McMillan, 2018, ISBN 978-1-74354-910-0, 362pp
Jane Harper’s reputation is growing with each novel she publishes. If you have read The Dry and Force of Nature, you will know that this repetitional growth is deserved. She tells a mean tale and tells it in a way that is engaging and thrilling. I bought this latest novel, The Lost Man, immediately on entering Janice’s emporium and it lived up to expectations. If you have read the previous novels then you will be disappointed if you were expecting Aaron Falk. He’s not here. But that is not a problem; Harper has presumably decided that she does not want to be defined by a particular central character.
Like Chris Hammer’s Scrublands, the narrative depends to a degree on a harsh Australian landscape that is never quite described but is clearly relentlessly unforgiving. In Harper’s case that landscape is somewhere in Queensland and it tells the story of the relationships between three brothers, their abusive and now dead father and their mother.
The book opens at the Stockman’s Grave where the dead body of Cameron, the middle of the three brothers, lies. His car is found some way distant; he is experienced in the conditions and the reason for his wandering far from his car without adequate provisions is a mystery. The remoteness of the place means that any police or other emergency assistance is patchy. The elder brother Nathan is the hero of the novel as he sets out to determine what happened. It is a book about family secrets, about domestic abuse and violence. Nathan’s outlook is shaped by decisions that he has made in the past, by the breakdown of his marriage many years previously and struggles with his relationship with his teenage son.
It is a tale that is told well, gripping in its narrative and well-structured in its writing. In the end you are not quite sure who is the lost man: is it the dead one or the survivor? Both are lost; one irretrievably and the other hopefully not so. This is a cracking book and one that you could well give someone who likes a mystery thriller as a Christmas present.