Force of nature by Jane Harper

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Aaron Falk book 2. Macmillan Australia, 2017. ISBN 9781743549094
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Mystery and suspense. Aaron Falk returns in the second of Jane Harper's mysteries, following her best-selling The dry. This time partnered with Carmen Cooper, they are investigating a family company, BaileyTennants, which is suspected of money laundering. His whistle blower, Alice Russell, has promised to give them the documents to prove the case, but she turns up missing after a team building bush walk in the rugged Giralang Ranges. Five women from the company walked into the bush and only four returned.
The action and the setting keep the reader riveted. Told in alternative chapters, Harper describes what is happening on the bushwalk and the direction that Falk's investigation into Alice's disappearance is taking. The Giralang Ranges provide a dark and frightening background and when the women take a wrong turning and become lost there is not only the never ending sameness of the bush to contend with but the lingering fear that once a serial killer and his son roamed this wilderness.
Harper brings alive the characters of the five women: there is Jill, daughter of the patriarch of the family company and nominally in charge of the group; Alice Russell is self-centred and nasty but committed to her daughter; the twins Bree and Beth constantly bicker and Lauren is a self-effacing woman who lacks confidence. As the members of the group try and find shelter and the way home any group cohesiveness is lost and old wounds are opened with often nasty results.
Family dynamics are vividly described. Lauren's daughter is suffering after being brutally bullied at school. Alice's daughter who goes to the same school, is also experiencing problems with the son of the company's director and these complexities add a depth to the story and the reader's feelings about the main characters.
The reader is never certain if Alice is still alive and has just chosen to disappear or if she has been murdered by a group member or someone following them in the bush. This suspense is kept up until the very end when there is a very satisfying denouement.
This is a worthy follow-up to The dry and I look forward to reading about Aaron Falk's future investigations.
Pat Pledger