Review: Force of Nature
Author: Jane Harper
Genre: Crime, Thriller, Mystery
Series: Aaron Falk
"Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.
The hike through the rugged landscape is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team-building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.
Police Officer Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing walker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case - and Alice knew secrets. About the company she worked for and the people she worked with.
Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew."
The Dry was one of my favourite books of 2017, as it was for many Thriller readers. So as soon as Jane Harper released the follow up to her debut, I couldn't wait to give it a go and discover what happened to Aaron Falk next. I found the premise of the sequel exciting; it felt very Lord of the Flies and I was intrigued to see how Falk would be involved with the plot.
I thought the book was cleverly intertwined; the narrative is split between Falk and his partner Carmen in the present, and the past events of the five ladies in the outback. This allows the reader to compare the stories of the women with the actual truth, forming judgments about what happened to Alice and who was involved. I liked that the perspective jumped from one woman to another. With the current trend of using an unreliable narrator being so prevalent, it was refreshing to feel like you had more of an insight into the story.
Harper created effortlessly flowing prose, but I was in general disappointed with this read. I can always tell how much I like a book by how long it takes me to finish it, and I was in no rush to pick this back up after the first few chapters. I felt like I had read around 200 pages with not much happening; there was little development to the story, Alice still hadn't been found and they were no closer to solving the mystery. It was generally a pleasant read since I had already invested in Falk's character, and Harper delved into his relationship with his father and gave some details about the people back in Kiewarra. But I can't say that it struck a chord with me as much as The Dry.
I think the characterisation was the major issue for me. I am a character-driven reader and I just didn't seem to connect to any of those introduced to me. I struggled to remember who was who for the majority, especially between the five women with similar names. Even when following Falk's storyline, it just felt like he wasn't really connected to the plot. For the majority, he gained all information about the search for Alice from others; it is only the last few chapters where he is actively involved in the main story. I found it surprising that despite the book being marketed as an Aaron Falk sequel, you don't really see that much of him. There was just no one to root for; you know that Falk isn't involved in the disappearance, and I didn't connect with any of the women enough to care if they had killed Alice.
That being said, the pace did pick up slightly after the halfway mark. Harper has already proved to produce atmospheric and intense description, and Force of Nature is no different. I felt the stifling presence of the outback, surrounding the women as if it was circling its prey. This made the tension of the novel palpable as you understood the helplessness of the women's situation. But I struggled to believe that five women with minimal outdoor experience would be left to fend for themselves so completely. Surely someone would have came to check if they had reached the checkpoints? Or at the very least there would have been a contingency plan if something went wrong. But then again, I barely completed bronze DofE so I'm hardly an expert on the matter.
The mystery of what had happened to Alice did keep me reading to the end, but I was left feeling unfulfilled by its conclusion. Maybe this is partly because I wasn't fully invested in the story or the characters, but I just didn't feel that satisfied with the ending. The two interesting suspects, Kovac's son and Daniel Bailey, were explained away and unrelated to Alice's fate. This left only the five women as suspects and her accidental death didn't really surprise me. I was also confused about the inclusion of romantic tension between Falk and Carmen; it's hardly explored and concludes with a kiss that felt forced and leads nowhere.
Despite my disappointment with Force of Nature, I am still a fan of Jane Harper's writing, and would definitely give her next book a go. She knows how to craft a story, unfortunately I just didn't connect with this one.
Do you agree? Let me know in the comments below!