Federal Agent Aaron Falk Series by Jane Harper

I’d previously reviewed Jane Harper’s first book – ‘The Dry’ as a solitary post, and because I’d enjoyed it so much, I read her second, and third books in quick succession! This made me realise that her second “Force of Nature” continued to follow Federal Agent Aaron Falk, turning it into one of my favourite up-and-coming thriller series’. I’m also very excited to hear that ‘The Dry” is being made into a film with Eric Bana in the starring role – due out in August 2020 (but don’t quote me on the release date!) So, here is a compilation of my reviews of the 2 Aaron Falk novels (so far, because I hope for more)…

#1: The Dry

This is a very atmospheric book. Haunting and gripping. The parallel story-lines in this book intertwine perfectly and leave you transported to Australia both past and present. The underlying current in this book is that secrets kill. And people say they want to know the truth, but the truth is that they actually don’t.

The desperation and determination in this book is heartbreaking. You feel the Falk character’s tension and unrest, but this does not deter him from addressing events. The urgency is overwhelming, but the force to be patient is overpowering. Be methodical. To do it right. Leave no stone upturned. Partnering with a local cop is a sobering realisation that ‘feeling’something isn’t as it seems, isn’t actually enough without evidence. And evidence is so, so key in this book. If one piece is all you have, then is it really better than having nothing?

For a first book by this author, this is a beautifully told story packed with emotion, and she really taps into your soul. You ache for the characters, most people can only imagine the toll of a drought on a community, let alone coupled with horrific crimes and the ugly past rearing it’s head at any and every opportunity. Everything a reminder, subtle or otherwise. It must be utterly exhausting, and it pours from the pages into the reader’s imagination so well. The pathetic fallacy is perfectly simple but for such a complex landscape, it works.

I’ve not visited Australia, but this book made me want to. And also not want to. At the time of writing this, April 2020, my mind is filled with the stark reality that this book could be based on a true story. September 2019 onwards presented horrendous news stories ricocheting around the world about fires in Australia from years of previous droughts. Everyone knows they get “hot weather” down under, but this was something else completely. National Emergency status was implemented and sitting in the rainy, cold UK watching the footage just made you feel helpless, but so very hopeful. Because the truth of it is that nothing can outrun a fire. You also can’t outrun the truth; one day it will all catch up with you. – GJ

#2: Force of Nature

“Five went out, Four came back…”. The hook on the cover undoubtedly intrigued me to immediately turn to the first page. 5W’s + 1H = Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? But the answers to each of those ‘simple’ questions are anything but straight-forward. This story-line has deliciously twisted motives with hazy lines between the meaning of family; both in a personal and professional sense. Filled with mystery and intrigue… I was gripped from page 1.

I love the contrast between corporate and wilderness Jane achieves. It works to frame the plot in an atmospheric and panic-filled setting. You have these entangled work relationships with hierarchy, respect and loyalty, but all peppered with history and forlorn regret. You are hit with this constant theme of distrust which builds the tension and force, whilst the rescue team try to gradually tear apart the woven carpet of demons, thread-by-thread to figure out what went wrong to lead to only 4 women resurfacing. ‘Force of Nature’ is such an apt name for this book because it perfectly depicts the effect of an unknown environment on human beings. This thriller is a team-building social experiment gone-wrong, mixed with a terrifying potential cold-case reappearance, but it is so much more that that because there are other motives at play. Question: how well do you know the people you work with?

Alice Russell is a character who you can’t pin down throughout. There’s this constant to-ing and fro-ing as you try to decide if you should hate or admire her. I feel that sympathy isn’t the right word, but maybe it is. At the end of the day, she is just a fiercely competitive woman with her own secrets, but does her snobbish manner and desire to humiliate and belittle everyone around her mean she deserves the course of events? There is a lot of blame brandished around, which in the circumstances, is natural, I suppose. Survival instincts are tainted by delirious illusions and with the panic coursing through their veins it would be hard to distinguish guilt from terror.

Residual bitterness from underlying history between pairs of characters is beautifully mirrored and heart-breaking. Families have this canny way of blurring perceptions and altering memories so you remember what you want to, or what you wish had happened rather than the actual facts. Protection, in many ways, might be the strongest theme throughout this book. In the form of self-preservation and arrogance, you wistfully wish the characters would cooperate, but as a defence mechanism aimed at others you rejoice at their cooperation. It is so hard to explain without giving away any spoilers that this book’s complexity and divine characters make it such a great read.

It focuses slightly less on Aaron Falk as a character, than I maybe would have liked, but there are hints back to ‘The Dry’, which (I hope) means there’s more to come from him, but maybe Jane is gathering up ammunition to release in a new future thriller. Overall, I loved ‘Force of Nature’ and would 100% recommend you read it. It does work as a standalone because of the gentle nudges to the previous Aaron Falk book (do read ‘The Dry’ as well though!). I will say, don’t take this book away to read whilst camping… it may be a little “too real” for comfort, because what would you do if one of your group didn’t come back…? – GJ

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