The Lost Man by Jane Harper

At night, when the sky felt even bigger, he could almost imagine it was a million years ago and he was walking on the bottom of the sea. A million years ago when a million natural events still needed to occur, one after another, to form this land as it lay in front of him now. A place where rivers flooded without rain and seashells fossilized a thousand miles from water and men who left their cars found themselves walking to their deaths.

Jane Harper writes consistently thoughtful, gripping mysteries. Her third and latest book, The Lost Man, isn’t shelved in the mystery section at my library (but I think it should be.) Taking a break from her Agent Aaron Falk series, Harper keeps the setting in Australia, this time in the sweltering Christmas time Outback of Queensland. Once again, she creates a vivid portrait of an unforgiving landscape and, in this outing, a seriously dysfunctional family.51XFkVOYqOL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

The Bright family owns a lot of land, giant cattle ranches split between the three brothers, Nathan, Cameron, and Bub. Vast distances separate their homesteads – a three hour’s drive from Nathan’s to Cameron’s, which was the original family home. The land is rather bleak and Harper once again does a wonderful job of situating her story into a very atmospheric setting. The book opens with a gruesome death – middle brother and golden boy Cameron’s body is found dehydrated and heat-stricken in the meager shadow of a local landmark, the Stockman’s Grave. His car is later found fully stocked with water and supplies and in good condition but miles away from his body. No one in their right mind would walk away from safety into the extremely dangerous temperatures of the Outback. Was it suicide? What had his state of mind been lately? Little by little, eldest brother Nathan, a divorced dad and black sheep of the family, starts peeling back the layers of the mystery. In doing so he has to relive and confront some very ugly truths about his family’s past.

I read this quickly, in just a few days, and when I had to put it down I longed to pick it back up as soon as possible. I found that Harper has a wonderful way of ending a chapter with a little revelation or a question so that I felt compelled to keep reading. In spite of the relative isolation of the setting, Harper gives the reader plenty of characters who act just a little bit shady and may have the motive to commit murder. I confess I didn’t see the solution coming. While the family dynamics at play here may seem just a shade over the top, I felt the characters were credible enough for me to enjoy the story. Nathan in particular was a compelling character, trying to break free from the mistakes of his past and the walls he’d put up in the meantime. If you’ve not read Harper before this standalone would make a great place to start. (Although there is a fun little Easter egg connection to her first book, The Dry.) Just know that she’s more of a slow burn kind of author with great attention to detail rather than a breakneck pace kind of writer. I really liked this one. 4 stars.

19 thoughts on “The Lost Man by Jane Harper

  1. Great review, Laila. I am yet to read any books by Harper but I have 3 including this one. Nice to know that this is a slow burn but still works very well. Can’t wait to read it soon.

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  2. I liked it too, though I did feel it was overlong, but then that’s a frequent complaint of mine. She really is great at conjuring up these extreme settings – that’s always the aspect I like best about her books. The Dry remains my favourite to date… but I suspect her later books have suffered from too high expectations because of it. I’m intrigued to see where she takes us next…

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  3. I enjoy a slow burn! I’m also trying to get more into mysteries this year, because I feel like it’s a genre I don’t know super well, and a book that’s maybe fringey to the mystery category could be a great way to ease into it. Plus I want to read more books by non-American authors, so this is perfect! I’m adding it to my list.

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  4. When I read that a body was found and supplies were a few miles away, all I could think of is the movie Tremors! People die from dehydration because they’re stuck up on a telephone pole, for instance, because the giant worm things underground will eat them if they set food on the ground.

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  5. The other week I was picking up a library copy of The Dry, leafing through and remembering that someone had recommended it but I couldn’t remember who and, anyway, I was super-focussed on NOT borrowing anything, but still leafing through the paperback section, just to scratch the itch a little even so. Of course now I wish I had snapped it up. Because who doesn’t love Easter Eggs. Glad you enjoyed this one so much.

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