Author: Jane Harper
Series: Aaron Falk, #2
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4 stars)
Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?
When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.
But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.
Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?
Beth wasn’t sure if the others had sensed it, but earlier she had felt the faintest stirrings in the atmosphere. Something base and elemental and almost primitive, where a bit of stale bread and cheese became a prize worth fighting for … the word she’d been searching for had formed on the tip of her tongue, so real she could almost taste its residue. Feral.
I was late to the party reading The Dry in December of last year, but it was a one-sitting read that instantly reeled me in with its atmospheric nature. In some ways, I’m glad it took me so long to get to it – I wanted more of Aaron Falk as soon as I had finished, and this way, I only had a month to go before this release!
Force of Nature is such an interesting sequel because it so starkly contrasts its predecessor while at the same time retaining many of the core elements that made me fall in love with Falk and Harper’s writing in the first place. Her style is such an absolute joy to read – very few mystery/thrillers are able to balance realistic character development, gripping tension, and vivid descriptions as delicately and precisely as hers do.
The premise here is a bit of a stretch for me – every year, BaileyTennants selects two groups of women and men to participate in a weekend-long team-building exercise navigating the unforgiving Australian wilderness. If it sounds like a recipe for disaster, that’s because it absolutely is. (And that’s my biggest gripe of the whole novel. Because, really? You’re going to send a group of completely unprepared women out on their own in the unforgiving Australian wilderness without the ability to contact anyone for help should they need it?)
Let me take a step back, though. The Dry might have given us Falk’s origin story, but in Force of Nature, he’s so much more at home and in his element. This time around, we get more glimpses into who he is behind his Federal Agent front, and I was fascinated, especially by his relationship with his father and how those memories are triggered by this case. Falk is such a fun character, and I also enjoyed the introduction of his partner Carmen and their ability to play off one another.
It surprised me that this book veered away from the storytelling style of the previous one. The chapters alternate between the present in Falk’s perspective and the past from the women’s ill-fated departure leading up to the truth behind Alice’s disappearance. Honestly, I was bummed we didn’t get to spend more time inside Falk’s head, especially because I didn’t particularly care for any of the women and didn’t envy any of them for being stuck in the woods with only each other for company. Their group had some interesting dynamics, though, and it was fascinating to watch hidden strengths and weaknesses come to life as desperation peeled back their layers.
The gorgeous imagery employed throughout this novel is just as atmospheric and captivating as The Dry. Harper breathes life into the wilderness, and you can feel the cold, wet despair and the oppressive isolation as the women veer further and further off track. Another major plus is the wonderful pacing and how the chapters grow shorter and choppier while still keeping you guessing as you approach the climax, where past and present collide with the truth.
I had so much fun with this read, and I really hope this isn’t the last we see of Falk. Force of Nature is an extremely different book from The Dry, but it carries much of the same strengths and charm, and I found myself invested – in both Falk’s character and solving the case – the whole way through.