“Force Of Nature” takes place some months after the events in “The Dry”. Aaron Falk is back working in Financial Crimes in Melbourne, tracking down contracts to make a money laundering case against a family firm. The firm has an “Executive Adventure” retreat in the mountains which involves a team of five men and a team of five women navigating through the bush over the course of a weekend. At the end of the weekend, only four of the women make it out. The missing woman is the contact Falke has been pressuring to steal copies of contracts for him. Falk and his partner go to investigate.
This is very cleverly told tale, moving along two timelines in parallel. The main timeline, the search for the missing woman and the investigation of the circumstance of her disappearance, is interspersed with the details of what happened in each day in the women’s team as the hiked the trail.
Without ever making me feel like I was being cheated, Jane Harper fed me bits and pieces of information about the women on the hike that kept changing my assessment of them as individuals and of their relationships to each other. Naturally, I was also kept guessing about what happened to the missing woman. The resolution was satisfying and plausible.
Unlike in “The Dry”, Falk is not the focal point of this investigation. We continue to learn more about him and he behaves in a way that is consistent with the man we met in “The Dry” but he is instrumental rather than central this time. I thought the book was stronger for that.
I liked the way this book presented women. It’s quite rare to read crime books that pass the Bechdel Test of having at least two women talking to each other about something other than a man. “Force Of Nature” is MAINLY about women talking to each other.
We see the power of the bond between mothers and daughters and between (twin) sisters and the conflicts that arise from hierarchy and dominance. These women are clearly drawn and very believable. The verbal fights and physical violence that these women get into are tough and harsh but still different from the same kind of conflicts between men. My impressions of the women kept shifting as I learned more about them and they emerged as individuals with very different views of the same events.
It seems to me that the title refers to two forces of nature: the power of the bush to threaten our well-being and trigger survival behaviours that conflict with how we present ourselves back in the city and the power of family to summon sacrifice and guilt as well as love.
The book also looks at the pressure the Internet puts young girls under and what they do to themselves and each other to deal with that pressure.
This is a good, page-turning, mystery that is made richer by strong characters behaving realistically in a difficult situation.
I liked Falk and enjoyed seeing his view of events. There was just enough development of him to build a basis for a great series here.
I listened to the audiobook version. Although it had the same narrator as “The Dry”, it didn’t work quite so well this time. Partly this was because it’s a challenge to have a narrator do so many different women’s voices and partly because the editing was a little sloppy with a couple of sections with repeated sentences of mispronounced words. It was still a comfortable listen but adding a second narrator for the second timeline would have made for a better listening experience.
Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample