Force of Nature

Recommendation: Yes, because you will want this after The Dry

Where to read: Rainy evening in bed

Read with: Brookie’s Byron Slow Gin (delicious and made with Davidson Plum)

In brief: If you’ve ever been bushwalking, particularly in one of Australia’s wilder national parks, some of this may feel very familiar to you. Just don’t take it too seriously, it’s fine.

Aaron Falk is back for a second outing and I would totally fine with it if Harper wanted to keep this going as a series. That said, I don’t think this is as strong as The Dry. This is partly because the story is less interesting (to my lights), and partly because the sense of place and atmosphere, which are such a strength of The Dry, are less well developed here.

To be fair, both of these issues arise from Haper’s laudable efforts not to write the same book twice – she takes the action out of drought-stricken country Victoria and into the hazily described “Giralang Ranges”, a fictional mountain range presumably based on the Grampians, and she replaces the social tension and determined silence of a small town in crisis with a kind of female Lord of the Flies situation. Similarly, domestic violence is replaced with young women’s mental health and eating disorders as the overarching theme.

There are, however, some similarities, particularly an ongoing exploration of how teenage misadventures can shape adulthood and an interesting dynamic between Falk and his fellow police officer. Harper also seems to be trying to recreate the sense of menace and hidden secrets which so thoroughly permeate The Dry but the spectre of a serial killer doesn’t work quite as well as a bogeyman, and that entire plot line feels underdeveloped.

I know this all makes Force of Nature sound like a cautionary tale about the peril of sequels, but it is still very readable and well worth your time.

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