Sunday, June 3, 2018

Book Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

An Excellently Crafted Book with a Somewhat Diluted Ending

One of the things that first drew me into Force of Nature was the way Harper characterized the Australian bush country – so dense and tangled that even if you were walking in a straight line, it could feel like you were walking in circles.  Every sound, every glimpse of motion is lost in the shadows from the vegetation just a few feet away.  Then add a cold wind and rain, and uncomfortable becomes punishing.  So, when five women on a corporate retreat to the area lose some gear and then get lost, a bad situation turns much worse.  It would have been tense even if the women were the best of friends, a well-oiled machine in the working world.  But they weren’t and when the story starts, only four of them have returned from their hike.

Harper uses parallel timelines, one chronicling the women’s hike, the other telling of Australian Federal Police Agents Falk and Cooper’s actions when they are called in four days later.  The tension mounts with both storylines reaching their respective climaxes at the end of the book.  It’s a great technique and Harper uses it well.  I liked Falk and Cooper as the co-investigators.  Neither were simple stereotypes, although Faulk was a bit flat.  And Harper avoided the cliché of making their story too romantic.  As for the women’s story, they ‘took turns’ relating the events as they saw them, and these shifting points of view give the reader considerable insight into their lives and personalities.  Again, a nice touch by the author.

The paucity of the women’s training and the complete absence of safety equipment was not believable, but the rest of the story creates enough tension that this fact is easily forgotten.  The pacing is acceptable, although it is more the ‘slow burn’ of rivals in a desperate situation for most of the book.  The action does increase markedly at the end.  But what should have been the pinnacle of tension becomes diluted, as the twist in the last third of the book introduces not only new thoughts about what happened to the missing hiker, but the reasons as well.  Shifting themes so dramatically made it feel like two stories, the second one clearly significant but not nearly as developed as the suspense in the first.

Overall, Force of Nature is excellently crafted, with palpable tension for most of the book.  But with a new theme competing for the reader’s attention, the finale fizzles a bit.

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