Review: The Survivors by Jane Harper

9781760783945Jane Harper’s “The Survivors” is a splendidly entertaining and addictive whodunit set in the small coastal town of Evelyns Bay in Tasmania. It is a crystallisation of Harper’s three preceding novels — “The Dry,” (2016) “Force of Nature” (2017) and “The Lost Man” (2019) — and plunders similar themes of childhood friendship, family loyalty, and festering secrets, which threaten to break the thin-ice on which its characters live when the body of a young woman washes ashore.

Kieran Elliott’s life inextricably changed the day his recklessness cost the life of his brother; the same day an adolescent girl disappeared during a cataclysmic storm. Guilt has haunted him ever since, and resurfaces sharply when he revisits his hometown with his young family, and is forced to confront his past as police investigators probe the community about its newly dead.

I call it a ‘whodunit’ rather than a ‘thriller’ because the fate of its cast is never really in question, and its suspense — perhaps ‘tension’ is a better word — is procured not from a looming menace, but revelatory conversations between its characters, of which “The Survivors” has a Greek chorus, sharing contradictory impressions as the truth of what happened today — and years ago — remains tantalisingly difficult to determine.

Harper’s latest has the twisty plot, evocatively sketched landscape, and page-eating pace  punctuated with emotional heft we’ve come to expect.

ISBN: 9781760783945
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: 22/09/2020
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Pages: 384
Price: $32.99


Review: The Lost Man by Jane Harper

untitled.pngSet in the unforgiving landscape of the Queensland outback, The Lost Man is a cracking page-turner  that explores the psychology of abuse and the desire for retribution.

The Dry was a transcendent work for Australian crime fiction, ushering in a new Golden Age for the genre. Its sequel, Force of Nature, vindicated those early accolades, proving that Jane Harper has the ability to produce relentlessly fast-paced and beautifully structured mysteries that fully exploit the harsh Australian landscape. Delightfully, The Lost Man amply fulfils the promise of its predecessors and sets the bar even higher. The intimate betrayals that pockmark The Lost Man are nothing short of devastating.

Anyone who read The Dry will recall its scintillating opening salvo: blowflies buzzing around the corpses of the Hadler family. It hooked you immediately; compelled you to turn its pages, to understand how this moment came to pass. The beginning of The Lost Man is just as gripping —  Cameron Bright, baking under the Queensland desert sun, crawling desperately to catch the shadow cast from the stockman’s grave, a long-standing manmade landmark; the only one for miles. When we next see Cameron, he’s dead; stared down upon by his two brothers, whose anguish over his death is overridden by a desire to know how this happened. Men and women in their line of work are survivors: they have to be. Conditioned to the tempestuous weather, accustomed to the isolation, it seems unlikely Cameron found himself alone in the middle of nowhere by accident. So was it suicide? Or did something — or someone — lead Cameron to the stockman’s grave?

Jane Harper is brilliant at pulling away the surface of her characters to expose their deeper — and often ugly — layers. In scrutinising the weeks and months prior to Cameron’s death, each member of the Bright family are forced examine the underlying toxicity that exists between them, and confront their own demons. The visceral fears and hatreds lurking below the surface of every member of the Bright family are adroitly exposed, and demonstrate that anyone has the capacity to be a monster.

ISBN: 9781743549100
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Pages: 384
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 23-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

9781743549094.jpgJane Harper knows precisely how to grab a reader, draw him or her into the story, then slowly tighten her grip until escape is impossible. The Dry was a stylish, compulsive whodunnit, centred around a small rural town, and the unearthing of dark secrets from its present and past. It was a superbly riveting demonstration of intelligent crime writing, and its successor, Force of Nature, provides further proof: Jane Harper knows all there is to know about detonating the gut-level shocks of a great thriller.

The premise of Force of Nature is deceptively simple: five women head off into the bush on a corporate retreat, and only four come out the other side. The well-being of the missing bush walker, Alice Russell, is of particular interest to Federal Police agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper: she’s the whistle-blower in their latest case. Their honed cop instincts can’t believe it’s purely a coincidence that Russell has vanished on a trip organised by the corporation she is covertly helping to dismantle. So off they go, from Melbourne to the rugged terrain of the Giralang Ranges, determined to disentangle the mess of deceit, deception and suspicion formed between the remaining four women during their ill-fated hike.

There’s a distinct Liane Moriarty vibe to Force of Nature and the nature in which its plot uncoils, flitting between multiple perspectives, and the past and present; a little like Truly Madly Guilty, but with a sharper edge. Jane Harper’s brilliance in characterisation and evocative prose is in full display here, as she grants herself a large cast of characters to probe the psyche’s of, teasing the truth, dangling the explanation as to what actually happened to Alice Russell, then pulling away. You’ll switch between your own guess of her fate, and the perpetrator — if indeed there is one — every few pages.

Once you start Force of Nature you’ll read it straight through, quickly, compulsively, happy to be in the hands of a born storyteller. Its setting and characters are uniquely Australian, but not grindingly unsubtle, and its perfect melding of plot, personality and graceful prose are sure to shoot it up to the top of best-seller lists. In a crowded market, Jane Harper shines at the quality end. She knows her characters, her locale, and her plot. Force of Nature is masterfully paced, wonderfully rendered, and devastatingly entertaining.

ISBN: 9781743549094
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 26-Sep-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

The Best Books of 2016

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It’s that time of year — mid-November — when proofs for 2017 titles are beginning to pile up, which means it’s time to pull the plug on what’s been a great year of reading, and jump heard-first into the future. But before that, let’s pause and reflect on the year that was — well, still is, for a few more weeks. You understand.

Read more

Pages & Pages Booksellers Books of the Year

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At Pages & Pages Booksellers we’re celebrating our favourite books of 2016. Early, you might be thinking, since there’re still a couple of months of the year left. But most of us are about to move onto 2017 books, or will be using the crazy Christmas season to catch up on backlist stuff we missed from years past. Reading-wise, we’re pretty much done with 2016, which is a scary thought. A new year is right around the corner…

Anywho: check out The Pages & Pages Booksellers Books of the Year. Will any of these be making your Top 5? And how’s that particular list shaping up for you?

Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry.jpgYou’re going to think I’ve lapsed into hyperbole, ladies and gentlemen, but the truth is, I’ve anything but. In fact, I’m cutting right to the chase, because if you take only one thing away from this review it should be this: until further notice, Jane Harper’s The Dry is the year’s best achievement on the Australian crime writing scene. As far as debuts go, it’s one of the best I’ve read — ever. And as a (newly reappointed) bookseller, it’s a book I can’t wait to put in people’s hands and hearing their reactions the next time they’re in store; probably the next day, because it’s the kind of novel that’ll induce an acute case of binge-reading.

The small rural town of Kierwarra is on the brink. Haunted by its past, and more recently impacted by two years of severe drought, the town is struck by an even greater tragedy following the murder / suicide of a farmer and his family. Federal police investigator Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, and his presence immediately stirs latent discontent and animosity amongst certain folk.  He might now carry a badge, but there are plenty of people in Kierwarra who’ve never forgotten, and certainly never forgiven Falk, following the suspicious death of another childhood friend. Now he’s back, and digging deeper into the murder/suicide, and unearthing the town’s dark secrets from its past and present.

From its prologue, The Dry latches hold of the reader and doesn’t let up.  Aaron Falk remains an enigmatic protagonist throughout; on the one hand, we support his mission for the truth; on the other, we’re forced us to question his involvement in the death of his friend years ago. The plot twists with an assuredness that belies Jane Harper’s ‘greenhorn’ status as a novelist. Her years as a journalist have clearly stripped away the common mistakes made by debut authors. There is a sparseness to her prose, which is complimented by characterisation and a plot of great depth. Frankly, if her writing was any sharper, it would cut.

The Dry is a stylish, compulsive whodunit that will keep even the sagest mystery reader asking questions until the very last page. And by then, you’ll be gasping.

(But don’t just take my word for it…)

ISBN: 9781743548059
Classification: Fiction & related items » Crime & mystery
Format: Paperback (233mm x 154mm x mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Macmillan Australia
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Publish Date: 31-May-2016
Country of Publication: Australia