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BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

| 22 January 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Pan Macmillan Australia
October 2018
Paperback, $32.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Fiction / Modern & Contemporary Fiction

90% Rocking

Jane Harper created a literary storm with the release of her debut thriller, The Dry. In her third novel, The Lost Man, Harper continues her masterful storytelling. You get the sense that she is like an astute calligrapher because all the “I’s” are dotted and the “T’s” crossed. The ending is also a satisfying one, similar to a gift tied up with a neat little bow.

The pilot would not see the dust circle. It was the flash of blue material against the red ground that would catch his eye. A work shirt, unbuttoned and partially removed. The temperature the past few days had hit forty-five degrees at the afternoon peak. The exposed skin was sun-cracked…
The circle in the dust fell just short of one full revolution. Just short of twenty-four hours. And then, at last, the stockman finally had company, as the earth turned and the shadow moved on alone, and the man lay still in the centre of a dusty grave under a monstrous sky.

This novel does not feature policeman Aaron Falk, the investigator from Harper’s two previous books. Instead, this slow-burning and gripping story is told from the perspective of Nathan Bright, a 42-year-old divorcee and the eldest of three sons who works the land in outback Queensland. Joining Bright is his rough, hard-drinking younger brother, Bub. Nathan’s 16-year-old son, Xander is also visiting town, though he usually lives in the city with his mother. Over the course of this story, Nathan tries to make sense of what has happened to his brother while also considering some things from the past.

It was the middle son, Cam, who was the golden child in the Bright family. He was well-liked. Successful. A father with a nice wife and two young girls. One day his car is discovered abandoned and his dead body found at the site of the stockman’s grave, the latter also died in suspicious circumstances. The difference is that the stockman died hundreds of years earlier and this proves to be an excellent parallel story to the main plot. Cam ultimately suffered from heat exposure and dehydration. Everyone questions whether this death was an accident, suicide, or the result of foul play.

‘Anyway, two days later, they run into this family of travellers coming north up the track and ask if they’ve seen any sign of their mate. The family seems a bit uneasy, then takes them around to look in one of their carts. In the back, all wrapped up in a blanket, is the body of the stockman. The family reckons they found him dead by the side of the track three days earlier and a hundred kilometres further south. They were taking him to the nearest town to see if anyone knew who he was. Apparently, his body was lying by the side of the road, no injuries, no water, or supplies or anything with him.’

Harper provides rich characterisation and a tense atmosphere. Nathan and Bub feel like quintessential, hardened Aussie farmers. This is proven time and again with the help of their ocker accents and liberal use of profanities:

Bub yawned and slid his eyes around the room. ‘Lots of people came, hey?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Do you think that many would come out for us?’
‘Nope.’
‘Me neither.’ Bub sounded resigned. ‘Bloody Cam. I don’t know how he did it. He was as much of a dickhead as the rest of us, he was just better at hiding it.’
‘That’s what you think?’
‘Yeah, of course.’ Bub stared at the wall for a minute. His voice was rough and his words still a little slurred. ‘It’s the truth, isn’t it?’ I mean, Dad was a dickhead, Cam was a dickhead. I am. You are.’

As in Harper’s previous books, the setting feels like an extra character here. She draws on the landscape and provides vivid descriptions and this ramps up the overall tension. The general feeling is that there is a lot more here than meets the eye, as things bubble away beneath the surface.

One morning, a few months after it happened, Nathan had woken up to a strange stillness on his property. He had lain there, anxious and unsettled, as it dawned on him. He was entirely alone. No staff. Nothing but static on the radio. Nathan stared at the ceiling. There was not a single other person near him for hours in every direction. He had been cast fully and completely adrift.

This novel is visceral, and as you read it you will feel a deep pit of dread form in your stomach, which tightens as you wonder what happens next. Harper’s prose in utterly engrossing and engaging. She also ends every chapter with a new cliff-hanger, twist, or other revelation. This means you won’t want to put the book down. It’s something Harper chalks up to her training and experience as a journalist where she was taught the importance of putting crucial information at the top of a piece and given the tools to hold the reader’s attention. The result is an intriguing book brimming with surprises, especially as new truths are revealed.

Xander blinked, suddenly looking a little nervous.
‘Just, the way you’re telling it, it sounds like it’s impossible for anyone to say for sure what really went on.’
‘Then I’ve told it wrong.’
‘It’s not that –’ Xander stopped. ‘But two people can remember different versions of something and both think it’s the truth.’

The Lost Man is another excellent work from Harper. It’s a powerful and suspenseful plot that keeps you guessing. It also stays with you long after the closing chapter. This tense, family drama and detailed character study is raw and gritty to its core. It shows that while there may be intense sunlight in the Australian outback, it can also be one dark and lonely place. You’ve been warned.

Natalie Salvo

Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at: http://nataliesalvo.wordpress.com

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