Jane Harper is fast becoming a formidable name in crime writing circles; her first 2 books “The Dry” and “Force of Nature” received great responses and this is her 3rd. It is a standalone and does not follow Federal Agent Aaron Falk like the other 2 do, although there is one nod to “The Dry’s”story-line. This book is definitely classified as a family/domestic thriller as there is no police team or definitive investigation aspect. With this being a fresh, independent story, there is no influence from characters in previous books about how the events could have played out and what conclusions we reach as we’re reading. But, as the cover says…Three Brothers. One Death. No answers.
The plot surrounds the mystery of how a local man was found dead in the middle of nowhere in the Australian outback, by himself. Could it have been an outsider? In such a small, tight-knit community, it seems unlikely, but that heightens the more disturbing reality that if it wasn’t suicide, then someone he knew left him out there, alone, to die. With such a small span of characters to choose from, the older brother Nathan takes it upon himself to probe deeper into recent affairs and discover what really happened. Although he was the middle brother, it seems that Cameron Bright was placed on a pedestal as he ran the family homestead, but perceptions of him start to skew as more information comes to light about occurrences leading up to the fateful day. The reality of his manner, mindset and actions slowly become apparent and so you do not feel shocked or surprised at the outcome, perhaps a little grateful and as if it may have been deserved.
A desperate sadness lingers throughout the whole book, not only surrounding the circumstances of the death, but the backstory of the family and other characters too. This isn’t a story which portrays Australia in a happy light, and especially as the timescale is over the Christmas period, the tone is flat and joyless, but that’s of course intentional to reflect the grief. Cameron suffered cruelly and although I felt no guilt for him by the end, reading that he “chased the shade until he couldn’t anymore” is heart-wrenching. When you consider the true ramifications of that phrase; the eerie silence from the relentless heat as his energy ebbed away is just awful. There was no point in trying to move, so he just stayed in the small patch of shade from the headstone as long as possible, hoping that someone might find him alive…
Imagery is a particular strong point of Jane Harper’s writing and her ability to set the scene so you feel as though you can picture the landscape through your own eyes is so impressive. She’s able to exhibit exemplary pathetic fallacy by effectively assigning Australia it’s own identity, making it one of the key characters in all her stories. The remote location of both the homestead and Cameron’s death offer a potential for serenity and calmness but the reality is far from that. The red dust evokes this overwhelming sense of desolate dryness which is paralleled in the increasing lack of emotion from the dead brother’s family as more is revealed about Cameron’s true personality. I particularly liked the clever oxymoron ‘December heat” which to me, as a UK resident, is baffling and completely unfathomable, but exceptionally powerful.
Clear family tension attributed to secrets, betrayal and domestic abuse along with strong regret fuel this sorrowful thriller. An undercurrent that the Australian desert, like it’s human inhabitants, is unforgiving and despite the clear consequences, souls are still drawn to the prohibited solitude like a ‘moth to a flame’. It’s made clear that it would be a suicide mission trying to navigate out there alone, even if you know the land well, but the sweet pull of the danger acts like a mirage enticing people towards it’s grip. It’s a dark thriller with a few, good twists but it’s not fast paced or exhilarating, more a despairing mystery but it is so very well written. If you want a break from exciting page-turners and want to get absorbed in another land, then I recommend picking up “The Lost Man”. I can promise you’ll be engrossed, but be careful, you don’t want to get too lost… – GJ