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Book Author: Jane Harper

THE LOST MAN by Jane Harper: Book Review

If there’s one thing people born and raised in the Australian outback know, it’s how to prepare for the unexpected.  Car problems, flood waters, electrical failures–having the right tools or extra gallons in your car’s double fuel tanks or knowing there are battery-operated lanterns in your home and stables can mean the difference between life and death.

So it’s beyond anyone’s ability to explain the death of Cameron Bright.  He was found about nine kilometers, or six miles, from his car that contained bottled water and food, enough supplies to last a week or more.  Plus there was gasoline in both tanks.  No one, certainly no one as familiar with the outback’s dangers as Cameron, would have left his car and begun walking in the one hundred degree heat.  And yet here he is, miles from nowhere, sunburned, dehydrated, and very dead.

On the surface, Cam seemed to have an enviable life.  He was part owner and manager of the family ranch, married with two small girls, and very popular in the town of Balamara.

His life appeared much smoother than that of either of his brothers.  Nathan, two years older, was divorced with a son he rarely was able to see and was an outcast in the town because of a very bad decision he had made more than a decade earlier.  And the youngest of the Bright boys, Bub, was a bit slow, still living at home in the shadow of his middle brother and feeling very much left out when it came to making decisions about the running of the ranch.

Neither Nathan nor Bub can see any possible reason for Cam to have left his car and walked the impossibly long distance to Stockman’s Grave where he was found, more than twenty-four hours after he left home to do some repair work that should have taken him only a few hours.  In fact, Cam was supposed to have met Bub at Lehmann’s Hill to fix a mechanical problem, but he never arrived there and didn’t answer Bub’s radio calls.  Darkness was falling by the time an intensive search was underway, and when they found Cam’s body he was already dead.

The Lost Man is told from Nathan’s point of view, and it gives us the story of the brothers and their abusive, controlling father.  After Cam’s death, many old secrets, long hidden, come out into the open.  And if Nathan is not the man the people of Balamara thought he was for all these years, neither was Cam.

Jane Harper is also the author of The Dry, a highly-praised mystery and international best-seller that I reviewed in December 2017.  The Lost Man, with its vivid description of the Outback, its compelling plot, and its realistic characters, is equally good.  The novel’s stunning climax will have you thinking about family relationships long after you finish reading.

You can read more about Jane Harper at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

THE DRY by Jane Harper: Book Review

It’s a never-ending drought, sucking the life out of the land and the people of Australia, that is described in Jane Harper’s debut novel.  Farmers are on edge, looking at their once-profitable ranches that now are barren of crops and animal feed.  Tempers are at the breaking point, waiting for the smallest event to set them off.  And when that event comes, it’s catastrophic–the murder of three family members in the town of Kiewarra.

A delivery man finds the mother first, shot dead at the entrance of her farmhouse, and calls the police.  When Sergeant Raco arrives, he hears a cry.  Following the sound to a small bedroom, he sees a toddler in her crib, and he’s thankful that she’s unhurt.  But then he looks across the hall to another bedroom and sees the dead body of a young boy, apparently the older brother in the family.

A search is started for Luke Hadler, the husband and father of the victims.  The police don’t know whether he’s the killer or another victim, but in short order they find Luke in the back of his truck, his head nearly completely destroyed by a shotgun.  At first glance it looks open-and-shut:  a father goes crazy, kills his family.  But, says Raco, there are a couple of things that don’t seem to fit.  First, Luke didn’t kill his entire family and then himself; he let his baby daughter live, which apparently is unusual when a family member goes on a killing spree.  Second, although the shotgun used in the two murders and the suicide belonged to Luke, they were filled with Remington bullets, and the only cartridges on the Hadlers’ property were Winchesters.

It’s been over twenty years since Aaron Falk, now a federal police officer, left Kiewarra, hoping and planning never to return.  But a cryptic note from Luke’s father, “Luke lied.  You lied,” brings him back to relive the events of the past.  Is the death that occurred when Aaron and Luke were teenagers the reason for the current murders?  If so, why would someone wait all this time?  If not, what is the motive for these deaths?

Aaron’s field is investigating financial fraud, not murders.  He tells this to Luke’s father, but the man doesn’t care.  Gerry Hadler doesn’t think the police are looking deeply enough into the murders, and his hold on Aaron is strong enough that Aaron promises to stay for a week to investigate.  And that decision brings the townspeople’s never-forgotten hatred of their former neighbor out in full force, pulling to the surface the suspicions about the death of Aaron’s girlfriend two decades earlier.

The Dry is the tense, suspenseful story of a small town that has never recovered from the death of one of its teenagers more than two decades ago.  Ellie Deacon was Aaron’s off-again, on-again girlfriend, and her death by drowning could never be proved as either an accident or a suicide.  Even though Aaron was never charged with any crime, the hostility of the other townspeople forced him and his father to move to Melbourne.  And there Aaron would have gladly stayed for the remainder of his life had he not received that note from Luke’s father.

You can read more about Jane Harper at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.