I got an Advance Reader Copy of Force of Nature by Jane Harper via Shelf Awareness after reading many gushing reviews, comments, and tweets about Harper's first release, The Dry. Knowing Force of Nature was the second in a series, I asked friends for advice about order. Did I really need to read The Dry, first? Would I miss important background that would likely feed into the next novel? I've read series books out of order, in the past. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. The advice I received was mixed but leaned toward the likelihood that I'd miss out if I didn't read The Dry, first, so I ordered a copy and have decided to review them together.
The Dry, when Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns for his best friend Jake's funeral, it's his first visit to his hometown since he and his father were driven away. Luke, his wife, and son have been killed. But, did Luke murder his family and commit suicide or did someone else kill the family? Why was their baby daughter left alive but their son killed? Falk doesn't plan to stay in town to find out. But, then Luke's parents ask for help.
The title comes from the drought conditions in the area, as the story is taking place. Farmers are losing their livelihood because of the lengthy dry spell and nobody appears surprised that Luke may have killed most of his family. Since The Dry is the first in a series, you get to know Aaron Falk and the story of how and why he and his father were driven out of town in tandem with the unfolding investigation.
While there were some moments when I felt myself pulled briefly out of the story because I thought a particular element was weak, those were rare moments and the book was almost impossible to put down. I liked Aaron Falk and that feeling grew throughout the reading. And, I loved the way the author steered you toward believing someone was guilty, eliminated them entirely, and then did it all over again. The ending was surprising, tense, exciting, and believable. An excellent read. The book is set in rural Australia, west of Melbourne, and the setting is almost a character in itself. I love a very vivid setting, so The Dry was a 5-star read for many reasons. Highly recommended.
Force of Nature, the weather has taken a 180° turn. It's winter, now. Months have passed since Aaron Falk solved the mystery of his best friend's death. He has a new partner named Carmen and the two of them have been working with Alice Russell to uncover money laundering at her place of employment. Alice has disappeared while on a team-building hike that lasted three days. The other 4 women made it out of the bush alive but some were injured. They claim Alice took her phone and hiked out on her own after they became lost and spent the night in a cabin. But, did she? Is it possible her disappearance is related to the investigation into the company's finances? A serial killer used to operate in this part of the Giralang Ranges and his son has disappeared. Could he have something to do with Alice's disappearance? Will she be found dead or alive -- or, not at all, like one of the victims of the serial killer?
I had two concerns when I first started reading Force of Nature: 1. Will it be as good as The Dry or a disappointing sophomore effort? and 2. Can she pull off yet another "5 women go into the woods and only 4 come out," storyline? It's a plot that has been done to death and I was definitely worried that it would be same old, same old.
Well, good news on both counts. I thought Force of Nature was actually even better than The Dry. As with the first novel, I found the book almost impossible to put down. The Giralang Ranges are, as I suspected, based on The Grampians (a few hours' drive from Melbourne, where Falk is based -- you can take a bus tour into The Grampians from Melbourne) and, again, the setting is practically a character unto itself. Whereas I felt the intensity of the heat and craved water while reading The Dry, I shivered along with the characters and grew weary of the rain in Force of Nature.
Highly recommended and I absolutely cannot wait to see what Jane Harper comes up with, next. I'm not a big mystery fan but I am fond of Aaron Falk, love the Australian settings, and find Harper's writing both competent and believable. I liked where she took her main character emotionally and thought Carmen was a nice addition as a sidekick.
Note on order: Force of Nature stands alone fine, but I'm glad I read the two books in order because I do believe that the events of the first book feed into the second one, mainly in the way of character development. There are some references to Falk's father, his burned hand, and his hometown. However, the storyline in Force of Nature doesn't depend in any way upon events in The Dry. So, no worries if you can't read The Dry, first. You can always catch up, later.
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