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Author of the Month

Name: Jane Harper

First Novel: The Dry

Most Recent Book: Force of Nature

'The fact that this is only Harper’s second novel leaves me breathless with admiration.'

Synopsis:
FIVE WENT OUT. FOUR CAME BACK...

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged landscape is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case - and Alice knew secrets - about the company she worked for and the people she worked with.

Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew.

Review:
Harper switches her narrative from the present investigation in to the disappearance of Alice Russell to a few days before when the two teams, one all male and the other female, reluctantly walked in to the dense forest for three days of team bonding. In Harper’s hands, the great outdoors feels claustrophobic as the forest crowds in on this small group who have nothing in common and yet, have to support one another to successfully navigate their way out of the national park. Harper is wonderful at creating mood and I could feel the forest leaning in on me and these women, how the landscape blurred, became too similar, leading to frustration and anger as they became more and more disorientated with the alien surroundings.

None of the five women are particularly warm and each has her own agenda, but despite not being the warmest of characters, Harper propelled me forward to find out what happened deep in the forest with this group cut off from society and without any way of raising the alarm.

Weaved with Falk’s investigation, Harper sifts through the subject of parenthood, the peaks and troughs, the good and bad parents and in Falk’s case, how late it all is with forming a relationship to his father.

There are so many slight, but powerful nuances in Harper’s new book, the wistfulness of Falk combined with the missing woman who feels she has to fight for every step, more so for being a woman. These emotions all spill out as the group steer their way deeper and deeper, getting more and more lost. Harper digs deep with Falk and these women. She burrows right under the skin, showing every imperfection and each blighted dream.

By the time I finished this book I was exhausted, feeling as though I too had been trudging my way through those muddy paths and in to the green unknown. ‘Force of Nature’ is a truly powerful novel that will linger in your mind for a long time. The fact that this is only Harper’s second novel leaves me breathless with admiration.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) Most of your novel deals with a group of five women who are lost in the Giralang Ranges, a vast, sprawling wilderness. In fact, you mention the word, ‘feral’ a number of times and your new novel did have a feel of ‘Lord of the Flies’ about it as the group became more desperate as they became more lost. Was this deliberate?
The inspiration for the novel initially came from my own fears of being lost and alone in dense bushland. I’ve often wondered what I would do and how I would react, and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t handle it particularly well! From there, I started to think about how that might change – for better or worse – if it was a group rather than an individual that wandered from the trail.
The way group dynamics can fracture so quickly and how alliances break and form under pressure has always interested me, and dropping a group of unprepared women into an isolated setting seemed a perfect way to explore that. I always knew I wanted the group to be made up of women rather than men. I think a group of men, or boys, in that situation would also be a very interesting dynamic but it would also be a very different book.
2) Many of the people in ‘Force of Nature’ are not particularly pleasant. If I had to choose a favourite I would say Beth, although she is no angel, either. Was it difficult to portray such unsavoury characters and yet still will your reader to keep company with this dysfunctional group?
It was a bit of a balancing act! I strongly feel that everyone has light and dark and those two sides come out at different times depending on the circumstances. When the women lose their way in dense bushland, they quickly find themselves in a situation that tends to bring out their worst sides. People under unusual pressure can behave badly and I wanted their reactions to be authentic in that way. But at the same time, I did also want to bring out the human vulnerabilities that come from the women’s personal backgrounds and hopefully give readers a sense of why each might react in the way that she does.
3) We find out more about Aaron Falk and his relationship with his father. In fact, there is a thread of the difficulties of parenthood and the child throughout your book. In certain situations the dynamic of the group of women shifted from adults performing like children to others acting the role of a parent to fellow adults when a situation threatened to explode. Was this your aim from the beginning or did it morph in to the story as the personalities of the women developed while writing ‘Force of Nature’?
I did always want to have a strong familial thread running through the novel, but inevitably I find themes do develop and take on new directions the more I get into the novel and learn about the characters. I always knew family dynamics would play a part because the backstories of the women made it impossible to ignore. In the group of five, three are mothers, two are sisters with shared childhood experiences, and one works shoulder to shoulder with her father and brother to run the family business. It was inevitable that these roles would impact the women’s personalities, priorities and decision making.

I also enjoyed being able to expand more on Falk’s relationship with his father. After writing ‘The Dry’, I felt Falk’s father perhaps came across in a worse light than he deserved to, so I wanted to offer a bit more insight into the challenges he faced in raising his son.
4) We are currently going through very intense media exposure of women’s rights, equal pay and equality in the workplace and the #metoo campaign highlighting sexual harassment – and I felt your novel tapped in to some of what we are reading about in our newspapers. I felt all five of the female group had to watch their backs in the workplace in case of being judged, and in some cases being ‘let go’ for not doing their job. There was a stronger sense of vulnerability regarding female workers than their male counterparts. Did you know something like this was going to happen when writing your book, that we didn’t know about until much later in 2017?
It’s been very interesting watching the recent events around the #metoo campaign and other harassment and equality issues. I finished writing and editing ‘Force of Nature’ a good six months before these issues really entered the media spotlight, but like most, if not all, women I have been aware of them at various levels for my whole adult life. I found it really interesting to write about the group of women in Force of Nature, particularly how their personal and professional relationships overlap and affect their lives in a way that doesn’t always seem to happen for men.
5) ‘The Dry’ won the CWA Gold Dagger Award as well as being highlighted by many different radio shows and bookshops. Were you surprised by the huge positive response to your debut?
I was absolutely thrilled by the response to ‘The Dry’, especially from booksellers and readers. As an author, the biggest highlight has been hearing readers say that the enjoyed the book, and often have recommended it to family and friends. Winning the CWA Gold Dagger was an absolutely thrilling moment and something that I will treasure for my whole career. I felt truly honoured to have my book join such wonderful company among the past winners of that award.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
It is my favourite genre and I love books with strong characters, an engaging plot and hopefully a good twist or two.

The three crime novels I would take are:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I read this book in one sitting on a long-haul flight. I didn’t know much about it when I picked it up and I was completely drawn in. I remember finishing it and thinking that I would love to write a book that could keep people entertained in that way. I hadn’t started writing my first novel, The Dry, at that point and reading Gone Girl inspired me to start seriously thinking about it.

Killing Floor by Lee Child – I love Lee Child’s Jane Reacher series and I think his debut novel is still one of the very best. The opening chapter immediately sets up the premise – a small town, a big problem and a man with a past. It is brilliant storytelling and his sparse style keeps me turning pages every time.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn – This is a new release but one that I’m sure every psychological thriller fan already has on their bedside table. It is an outstanding debut centred around a disturbed and housebound woman who believes she witnesses a crime. I loved this book and it deserves all the many successes coming its way.