Book Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper


Is Alice here? Did she make it? Is she safe? In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four had asked after Alice's welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.
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.
Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. 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.

When two groups of colleagues from family firm BaileyTennants take part in a team-building scheme run by 'Executive Adventures' to complete what is known as the Mirror Falls trail, it's a shock to the system for all of them. Used to their plush offices, the employees look set to struggle with navigating the Australian outback (the lack of phone signal being perhaps the biggest sore point to begin with...)
The group of men make it round the trail with no problem, however the same cannot be said of the five women who set off on that fateful Thursday afternoon, backpacks fully stocked with boil-in-the-bag meals and supplies to see them through their journey through the harsh terrain.
However disaster strikes for the girls when a series of events leads them to go horribly wrong with their trail. They quickly become disorientated and conditions go against them. It's not long before fear sets in and the girls start to panic, which eventually results in one of the most out-spoken members of the team, Alice, going off on her own.
The remaining four manage to make their way back to the starting point, expecting Alice to be there waiting for them. Except she isn't. No one knows what's happened to her, and as time goes on a full-scale search begins to find her whereabouts amongst the Giralang Ranges.
Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk's attention is immediately drawn to the case - not just because there is a missing person but because of who that missing person is.  Alice Russell had been secretly working alongside Falk in a bid to uncover fraud taking place within BaileyTennants. Falk can't help but wonder if her sudden disappearance is something to do with their investigations.
The historical murders of three women in this area of the outback by the notorious Martin Kovac are also playing on his mind. And whilst Kovac eventually died in prison - who knows what secrets are hidden in Mirror Falls?

First thing's first: confession time. I must be one of the only people in the world who hasn’t read Jane Harper's critically acclaimed debut, The Dry. I have heard so many amazing things about this novel but just haven't got round to reading it. Therefore, when the lovely team at Little, Brown offered me the opportunity to be on the blog tour for Jane's follow-on novel, Force of Nature, I had high hopes and was also really looking forward to discovering Jane's writing, at last.

I had a sense that I might enjoy this novel, the storyline sounds fantastic and who wouldn't be intrigued by that tagline? But OH MY GOSH. I had no idea just how much I would love this story and allow it to take over my life to the extent that it did.
I seemed to develop some medically recognised condition whilst reading this novel where I actually lost the ability to put it down. I thought about this novel all the time when I wasn't reading it and I counted down until my breaks at work just so that I could fit in a few more pages. I would read it at every opportunity- including whilst drying my hair and waiting for the kettle to boil (that's multitasking.) It really was that good.

Obviously having not read The Dry I was newly acquainted with Falk but I quickly grew to like him. Smart, interesting and always one step ahead, he made a great lead. I was eager to discover his back story through The Dry and learn more about his history. I don't think that not having read Jane's first novel hampered my enjoyment of Force of Nature, but there were little things that you would get the reference to if you have read her debut, but that didn't bother me too much (especially as I fully intend on reading The Dry ASAP)

The way that Jane Harper formulates suspense into the story is done incredibly well. There are so many red herrings along the way and this element just kept reeling me in. I had suspicions about what was happening but they were often incorrect and I was just desperate to find out what had really happened to Alice out there in the outback.
And as for that setting - don't even get me started! I had no trouble picturing the Giralang Ranges in my head, the sparseness, the way in which every corner and turn looks identical to the last. It really spooked me. I felt the fear, panic and hopelessness that Alice, Lauren, Bree, Beth and Jill experienced when they got lost. I was scared...scared both for them and of the unknown. Jane's writing just sets the scene so very well and her descriptions are amazing. The whole novel had such an atmospheric feel to it.
I also loved how the chapters alternated between the present day investigations and the events that unfolded between the girls and their struggle for survival. This was done is such a clever way so that you gradually gain enough knowledge to start forming your own ideas on what was going on.

Spookiness is an overriding feeling that I got whilst reading this novel. I had goosebumps so many times and the thing that I loved about this is how it isn't scary in the typical way that you would imagine. I was then terrified when then Martin Kovac murders came to light (and the mattress! I'm not saying any more but you'll know what I mean if you've read it.)

The character dynamics were also another thing I loved about this novel. Each of the five women were so perfectly formed and brought to life exceptionally well. They all had such complex relationships with one another (I was particularly fascinated by the one between Bree and Beth.) I also really enjoyed reading about Carmen and Falk's working relationship. They really bounced off one another and made a great team.

There is just so much that I want to say about this novel, it's hard to put into words just how much I enjoyed it. Tense, addictive, fast-paced, creepy and guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat, Force of Nature is my favourite read of 2018 so far and I think it's going to be a really difficult one to beat...

A huge thank you to Kimberley at Little, Brown for the opportunity to review.

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