The Survivors, by Jane Harper

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jane Harper , and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Jane Harper is back with yet another stunning Australian thriller, sure to grab the reader from the opening pages. A small Tasmanian community is pulled into the middle of new mysteries and a man who has come back home must relive the horrors of a past he hoped to compartmentalised. Harper does it all in The Survivors, while showing how versatile she can be with a slow reveal plot and all the elements for a wonderful book.

Kieran Elliott has come back to Tasmania to visit family. Alongside him is his girlfriend, Mia, and their infant daughter. What should be an exciting time with family quickly sours when a body turns up on the shore. This stirs up memories for Kieran of an accident twelve years before, one that saw his brother and a young woman die in a storm, with the latter’s body never recovered.

As Kieran processes it all and tries to help, he must revisit many of the secrets he kept about the events in his earlier life. Everyone remembers, but no one chooses to talk about it. If that were not enough, Kieran is trying to come to term’s with his father’s early onset dementia, which does not act as a decent distraction.

As with many small towns, everyone is involved the business of others. With the dawn of social media, online posts fuel fires and reopen old wounds that were best left to heal. Kieran cannot hide from it, though he has tried to protect Mia and their daughter from as much of the blowback as possible. Still, even as a survivor from a past tragedy, Kieran has not been able to escape the tar and feathering of some locals, only leading to new questions about the most recent victim.

Jane Harper has never shied away from controversy when she writes, though she is keen to provide her own spin on things. Be it discussions about social issues, criminal matters, or the flavour of a small community, Harper is always spot-on and provides the reader with her valuable insights. This was on offer again here with a fabulous tale that patches together two time periods under a single narrative.

Kieran Elliott is a wonderful protagonist, though he seems not to want to limelight shone too intensely on him. Having left Tasmania years before, Kieran hoped to return to help his parents and introduce his own family to where he came of age. There is some backstory that weaves its way into the piece, creating the angst that projects itself in the present. There’s also a little character development for Kieran, who is forced to utilise a past he tried to ignore in order to make sense of the present. While he seeks to fade into the background, Kieran’s force is felt throughout this piece.

Harper uses strong supporting characters to tell her story as well. Without the likes of the townsfolk, there would not be that sense of ‘chit-chat’ and gossiping that are essential parts of the process. Some complement Kieran well, while others seek to offer flavouring that creates strong clashes throughout the narrative. I was eager to see both, as I felt that it added depth to the story and jolted things at those moments when the narrative slowed to a crawl.

As many have already ready, the pace of the book is not swift, by any means. However, there are times when a slowly reveal permits the reader some time to develop a connection to the story, its characters, and the subtleties of the overall narrative. Jane Harper did well with this and kept the reader guessing until the final reveal. Tasmania may be a small part of Australia, but it comers to life in this piece, with wonderful depictions and narrative flourishes. Harper keeps the reader moving along in the slow pace of the story with a mix of chapter lengths and strong moments of self-reflection. I cannot wait to see what else Jane Harper has in the works, as there is never a let down when her name appears on the cover.

Kudos, Madam Harper, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what others feel about this piece as well, since it is sure to garner some great discussions.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Lost Man, by Jane Harper

Eight stars

Having thoroughly enjoyed Jane Harper’s first two novels, I was eager to try this, a standalone, to see how connected I felt. While the story was definitely different, it grew on me and helped cement the sentiment that Harper is one of those authors sure to be recommended by those who read her work. When the body of Cameron Bright is found in the middle of an open parcel of land in Western Australia, questions abound. Discovered on the property of one of his brothers, a vast expanse of over 700 square kilometres, no one can be quite sure what happened or if there was foul play. As temperatures rise above 45 degrees Celsius, he could have perished from dehydration, particularly because he was found well away from his vehicle. The flat plains and no one having seen anything also limits the possibility that a stranger completed a nefarious act. As Nathan and Bub try to work through what happened to their brother, news comes from others within the clan, stories that have been kept under wraps until Cameron’s passing. Could some of the middle brother’s antics be coming to haunt him? With a large group of potential suspects and a fairly new member of the police force supervising this vast region, it’s anybody’s guess as to what happened and who might be involved, not to mention what motive might be at play. But, with Christmas approaching, answers will need to be found, if only to put the entire matter to rest. Harper keeps the reader guessing until the final pages, in this wonderfully unique Australian mystery. Recommended for those who have enjoyed the Aaron Falk series and all those who like something a little different.

I have long had a fascination with Australia and novels set on that side of the world. I cannot put my finger on it, but I’ve been lucky to have had some wonderful authors depict the area effectively, including Jane Harper. While the terrain differs greatly from my Canadian homeland, the people seem relatively similar, allowing me to have a strong connection and affinity for those who live in and around Australia and New Zealand. Harper introduces the reader to both Bub and Nathan Bright in the early stages of this novel, brothers who have spent much of their lives in a farming family in Western Australia. Their coming upon the third brother in the family, Cameron, takes its toll on them differently, as can be seen in the way Harper depicts them. Not only that, but their abilities to process the news and develop a plan to get to the bottom of what happens seems also to contrast. Nathan struggles with his teenage son, Xander, as well, which only adds to some of the backstory and development that Harper heaps upon the man. Adding a large cast of secondary characters, including multiple generations of Brights and some who married into the family, permits Harper to explore the family dynamic in even more ways, as secrets are revealed and news is shared between the branches. While somewhat a murder mystery, I would also classify this as a novel of familial discovery, as the ‘onion’ is peeled back and those closest to others discover just how little they know. Harper weaves this storyline through the curiosities of rural Australia and how isolation can also flavour this mystery. The end result is a captivating piece that will keep the reader guessing as the react to the news that comes from a variety of sources. Harper has does well, even if fans of the Aaron Falk series are begging for more. Sure to whet the appetite and bring new fans into the fold!

Kudos, Madam Harper, for another wonderful novel. Unique in its delivery, but surely satisfying and intriguing.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Force of Nature (Aaron Falk #2), by Jane Harper

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jane Harper, and Flatiron Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After devouring Jane Harper’s debut novel, I could not wait to get my hands on this sequel, which pulls Aaron Falk back into the mix. A member of the Australian Federal Police’s Finance Division, Aaron Falk is knee-deep in a case that could have many important implications. One of his sources calls him in the middle of the night and leaves a garbled voicemail, with ‘hurt her’ as the only decipherable message. It is then that Falk realises that his source, Alice Russell, has been on a team-building weekend, hiking in the Giralang Ranges outside of Melbourne. Her group, five women from the company, did not arrive for their pick-up and it was only six hours later that they emerged from the wilderness, tattered and torn, without Alice. Calling on his partner, Falk rushes to the scene and agrees to help the state police with the search, learning a little more about Alice as things progress. With no clues leading to Alice, many remember what gave the Ranges their infamous notoriety, having been the location a serial killer picked his victims, all but one of whom was discovered at some point. Two decades later, Falk wonders if there is something in the forested area who seeks to copycat that horrendous experience. However, the more he digs, the greater the information trove about Alice and her relationship with the others on the trek. Each person tells a different story about the weekend and their connection to Alice, which provides many with a reason to see her silenced. With a parallel ‘slow narrative’ of events during the trek itself, the reader can not only see the investigation as it progresses, but also the strains that befell those five women as they tried to work themselves out of many awkward situations with little but their guts to lead them. Harper has shown that she can create multiple novels of a high caliber as she delivers yet again. Fans of Aaron Falk are privy to more of his development, in a novel that proves vastly different from the debut thriller. Well-worth the time for those love a good thriller and who were highly impressed with The Dry.

While it is always easy to create a single masterpiece, it is the ability to remain at such a high standard that makes an author truly captivating. Harper has done just that, turning both the narrative and the format on its head from the opening novel. Aaron Falk’s backstory is less sketched out in this piece, but there are crumbs to give the curious reader a little more to add. It is the likes of ‘the five’ and how they pieced themselves together that proves brilliant. Harper not only sketches out a solid character for each of them, but builds on it by weaving their stories together with Alice Russell, all while keeping events that occurred in the forest a secret until the very end. Harper pulls the reader in to guess who might be responsible for the missing Alice, while arming all four with viable reasons. The story itself is wonderfully developed, positioning a current investigation alongside the events leading up to Alice’s disappearance inside the Giralang Ranges. What secrets does Alice possess and how can they unravel over the span of four days before someone takes action? Harper pushes the reader forward in such a way that they cannot help but want to learn more, forcing them to stay up late into the night just to piece things together. It is one of those novels, which is sure to prove useful when it hits book stands in early 2018. Harper has much to offer the genre and those who pay her mind will surely not be disappointed in the investment.

Kudos, Madam Harper, for this stunning follow-up piece. I know I will be keeping an eye open for your work in the years to come.

This book fulfills Topic #2 of Equinox #2 Book Challenge: A Book by an Author in Another Hemisphere.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Dry (Aaron Falk #1), by Jane Harper

Eight stars

Succumbing to some of the biblio-peer pressure surrounding Jane Harper’s debut novel, I thought I ought to make a little time and see what she had to offer. Australia has been hit with one of its worst droughts ever, turning fertile lands into blobs of brown. In the community of Kiewarra, rain has not fallen in upwards of two years, only adding to tensions. An emergency call is made and authorities arrive at the Hadler farm to find a bloodbath. Luke Hadler appears to have killed his wife and son, before turning the gun on himself. The town chalks this up to extreme duress and a cloud of murder-suicide hangs over the town, which accompanies the scorching sun. When Aaron Falk returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, townsfolk whisper. Falk is forced to remember what happened two decades before, when a friend, Ellie Deacon, was found dead in the river and a note addressed to him turned up. His alibi is flimsy and turns out to have been concocted with the help of Luke, though they thought the secret would prove impenetrable. While Falk has made a name for himself in the Federal Police, he remains that teenager whose name was bandied around as having been responsible. Falk faces those awkward memories as he tries to better understand what could have pushed Luke to kill his family, with whom he was apparently very proud when last they chatted. Falk works with some of the local authorities to investigate the deaths, turning up small inconsistencies. Could someone have harboured animosity for twenty years and finally sought revenge for Ellie’s untimely death? Could Falk be next on the list? Working to uncover what might have happened on the Hadler farm, Falk must clear his friend’s name, while standing firm as the past rears its ugly head. A wonderful first novel that allows Harper to show that she is someone to be taken seriously in the genre. Perfect for mystery fans and those looking for a superior story to enthral and entertain.

Harper has made a wonderful first impression on me with this novel, developing a strong police procedural alongside the complexities of small-town Australia. Aaron Falk serves as a wonderful protagonist as he keeps the narrative moving forward with his investigative skills, though the darker past that he has been forced to revisit keeps readers wondering about this man until the final sentence. This hint at a less than pristine Falk allows Harper to introduce a number of other characters whose importance varies, while pushing the narrative forward. Kiewarra proves also to be effective as a setting, as it mixes that proximity to big city life with the quaint farm living that has become destroyed with the current drought. A community that holds grudges while wanting to envelop its citizens away from prying eyes, Harper uses these traits to further enrich her narrative. Harper’s use of flashbacks throughout, rather than straight recounting dialogue, gives the reader a great deal of insight and provides a true ‘revelation’ perspective throughout the story, as if the reader were witnessing some of the events that had been mentioned in passing. The reader learns much from these glimpses into the past and it provides a telling connection to the larger story. Overall, a wonderful piece that should provide momentum for a series, should that be the route Harper wishes to pursue. Curious readers should not take the title to be indicative of the quality or presentation of the novel, but that stocks at booksellers will disappears as swiftly as an Australian brushfire. Get your copy today and you will not be sorry!  

Kudos, Madam Harper for such a great start you your published career. I can see that many others have come to like this work and I cannot wait to get my hands on whatever you have coming.