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Suspense novel set in the Australian Outback
6th February 2019
The Lost Man by Jane Harper, novel set in the Australian Outback
The Outback: …..it doesn’t take much for things to go wrong….
The Stockman’s Grave is pivotal to the story and it is here, in the desolate spot that has seen quite some history, that Cameron’s body is found. There is little to indicate any foul play but given the circumstances and the family dynamics, there is a lingering doubt that he just happened to pass away on this particular spot. He was due to be elsewhere and perhaps he had miscalculated where he was? Yet his land cruiser is fully functional and he was an experienced man of the land… It is of course very easy to die in the heat if you are insufficiently prepared.
Back at the ranch, the Bright clan has come together – grandmother Liz, Cameron’s wife Ilse, Cameron’s two young daughters, together with brother Bub. Dynamics are not easy in this family and as the narrative progresses there are flashbacks to events many years ago that may well be impacting on what is going on now: emotional boundaries have not been well defined and there have been some very uncomfortable events that have left lasting marks on members of the Bright family even now. A focal point in the house and on the day of his burial (which takes place on his property, a usual custom in this part of the world) is a painting of the stockman’s burial site, painted by Cameron. It has almost come to be revered in the household.
Simon and Katy are backpackers, living with the family, passing through and working to finance their travels. They hover in the background but could their presence be instrumental in Cameron’s death?
Gradually it becomes clear that the Bright brothers have had a very difficult time over the years at the hands of their abusive father.
There are plenty of red herrings and switchbacks that keep the storyline engaging. The setting, too, is influential on the lives of the people living in these remote areas. Arid, unforgiving and dramatic. The Outback is a hostile terrain in which humans have oftentimes had to sacrifice community. Loneliness can be a default setting which plays havoc with emotional and mental well-being. Children are schooled via the internet, medical help is far away, cars need two tyres as punctures are frequent, provisions have to be calculated weeks in advance and then ordered, generators provide electricity and are switched off overnight to keep costs down.
In this third novel there is no sign of policeman Aaron Falk, which was a surprise. He has been the major character in the author’s previous two books, The Dry and Force of Nature. He seemed rather settled in for a long and successful run….
The author is a gifted writer and storyteller and has won many accolades for her work. I did however find the opening chapters rather hard-going. There seemed to be the veil of a metaphorical dust storm behind which the characters were trying to set the scene – it all felt rather nebulous, hard to find the anchor for the burgeoning story. But perhaps that was intentional, in order to create a kind of heat shimmer to reflect the very hot and dry setting. About a 1/5 of the book Harper got into her stride. Overall, a worthwhile and gripping read.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
For more books set in Australia’s OUTBACK, just explore the TripFiction Database