Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Erich Mayer

Five women are lost in the Giralang Ranges but only four of them make it back to base.
Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Book cover image: Force of Nature by Jane Harper via Pan Macmillan.

This second novel by Jane Harper will please readers of The Dry. Like her first novel, Harper takes the reader to outback Australia but this time it's winter and it's cold and wet. Five women are lost in the Giralang Ranges but only four of them make it back to base.

Harper lets the story unfold from two points of view. In one, the reader follows the five female employees of the BaileyTennant company as they embark on what is supposed to be a three-day hike through the Giralang Ranges as part of the firm’s unpopular staff development plan. They have a map which is difficult to follow. They are less than fully prepared should they lose their way. Mobile phones are forbidden but in any case are mostly out of range. When they inevitably do get lost, things go from bad to worse.

From the other point of view, Federal agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper, both of whom readers of The Dry will remember, get involved in the search for the missing woman for reasons of their own. Eventually they unravel what has really happened but not before some surprising facts and events come to light.

Giralang is an aboriginal name meaning ‘star’ and in a way the fictional Giralong Ranges in Force of Nature are the star of this book. The Giralong Ranges are modelled on the Victorian Alps, which consist of tens of thousands of hectares of almost impenetrable, undulating forest. It is easy for inexperienced hikers to get lost in the Giralong Ranges, and highly dangerous if they do. So finding anyone who has gone missing before they come to grief is nigh impossible.

How it feels to trek through such mountain ranges in mid-winter is so well conveyed in this book that you almost feel you are there with the women on their trek, eager to lend your advice as to how to avoid getting lost and how best to get back to civilisation if things go wrong. And during the search for the lost woman, you feel you are among the rangers looking for her.

Throughout Force of Nature, Harper intersperses what is happening to the five women with what Falk and Cooper are discovering. This method of storytelling may heighten the suspense but too often requires the reader to jump back and forwards in time. Eventually, though, the two timelines converge and the final denouement will not disappoint.

3½ stars out of 5

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
ISBN: 9781743549094
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: 26/09/2017
Category: Fiction & related items / Crime & mystery
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Pages: 400

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog