All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

on November 19, 2018

The Lost Man 
Jane Harper
Pan Macmillan
2018, 362p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Timesbestseller Jane Harper.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.

So Jane Harper has written two books I’ve really enjoyed, revolving around a police detective named Aaron Falk. This is a stand alone but I was already pretty confident I was going to like it and that was before I went to see her at an event at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville last week. I bought the book at the event and even though I’ve got a million other books ahead of it in my pile, sometimes you just have to forget about the pile and go for the one that you want to read the most.

The Lost Man is set around 1500kms west of Brisbane, in Queensland. Unforgiving territory, relentless temperatures, dry and dusty land sparsely populated and home mostly to cattle on stations the size of entire European countries. In this story the local police officer is responsible for an area pretty much the size of Victoria, so when Cameron Bright is found dead in the outback at the base of an unmarked stockman’s gravesite, the local authority is several days away and someone else is sent to investigate.

That doesn’t fill Cameron’s brothers, Nathan and Bub, with much confidence. This is a bizarre situation. Cameron spent his entire life in this area and he knows how to survive. The fact that he seems to have abandoned his perfectly working car in 45 degree heat (113*F) is not something an experienced local would ever do. You stay with your vehicle and your supplies, you call for help be it via radio or flare and you wait. Cameron isn’t like Nate – he’s married, with two children, running a thriving property. A far cry from Nathan, the town outcast, who was messily divorced, barely sees his only teenage son and struggles to break even on a patch of land not worth a pinch. He had no reason to do this on purpose and yet with someone of his knowledge, the other option is even worse to consider. What happened to Cameron that he ended up dead from dehydration 9km away from his car?

If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be compelling. It’s not filled with action. Instead it’s a slow burn, character driven novel that just makes you want to know what happened. How it happened and why. With every page, Harper peels back a little more about this Bright family – they’re kind of like an onion. There’s just so many layers to them, mysteries and secrets and hidden betrayals and conflicts. Nate is the main character, we spent the time in his head learning about his life and we see most of the other characters through his eyes. Nate has not had an easy time of it, not growing up and not in adulthood either. He’s a loner, spending almost all of his time running his property on his own, often going months without seeing his own family. Although technically they live “next door”, I think it’s still a drive of several hours for him to reach the house he grew up in that Cameron now lives in with his young family and also Nate, Cameron and Bub’s mother. Nate has been ostracised from the small but tight knit society for a mistake he made years ago and it’s a role he seems to somewhat relish, hiding himself away and not realising just how many people are quite worried about him. I get the feeling that most people thought that perhaps it would be Nate who met a gruesome end, not Cameron. He’s somewhat determinedly stubborn, kind of wallowing in his isolation and the wrongs of his life, including this failed marriage and his struggling relationship with his teenage son Xander. When he does come back to the family after Cameron’s death, it’s fraught with tension with most members, including Bub, the brother 12 years younger than him that he really barely knows.

The area where Jane Harper roughly sets this book is around 31 hours drive or 2200kms from where I live. Most Australians will probably never see terrain the likes of this, unless they undertake a deliberate drive through the outback, taking in parts of remote Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. I’ve never experienced it but this book brings it into such brilliant colour. The heat, the unrelenting flatness and vastness of the landscape, the isolation and loneliness, the sheer mechanics of living in such a place. Having enough food to last months, because you get deliveries 2-3x a year and hey, there’s no supermarket within a thousand kilometres. The fact that despite the terrain being mostly desert, it still floods due to the rainfall up north, which I did not know. Even knowing about it is not to live it and this book gives an understanding of what that sort of life might be like, for just a brief snapshot. I think it’d be difficult to truly understand the isolation without living it and there probably are few people truly cut out for it.

I always say this – but the ending? I did not see it coming. And it blew me away, the slow puzzle coming together, the staggering reveal, the explanation, the heartbreaking finality of a choice made. It was brilliantly done. This is my favourite novel from Jane Harper yet and I want it to be 2019 already so there can be another one.


Book #191 of 2018

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