Book Club: Force of Nature

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Author: Jane Harper
ISBN: 978-1-74354-909-4
RRP: $32.99
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Copy: Courtesy of Publisher

Last year Jane Harper released her riveting debut suspense novel The Dry, which we read for book club and I loved. Since reading The Dry I have been eagerly awaiting the next book, which finally released last week.

A hugely popular debut novel sets extremely high sophomore story expectations, expecting that authors are just going to get better. This can leave that sophomore release falling a little flat but that is definitely not the case with Force of Nature. Harper’s sophomore novel is as strong as her debut and has helped cement her in my list of must watch Australian authors.

Force of Nature is the second book about Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk, and I hope not the last. It is a book that references events of The Dry a couple of times throughout but I don’t think it’s something that will affect enjoyment if you haven’t read the first book. I have read lots of books in between so my memory of the first book isn’t clear, but I know I loved it, so it wasn’t detrimental to my enjoyment of this one.

The Prologue places us somewhere in the middle of the story, we need to go back to discover how events unfolded before following through to the resolution.

Harper creates captivating suspense that leaves you wandering down overgrown and barely there trails of information trying to piece together the clues and work out what happened to Alice.

Two groups of staff from Bailey/Tennants boutique accountancy firm head to the Giralang Ranges for an outdoor adventure team building exercise; three days following the trails in the ranges after only a single afternoon of training for one member of each team. Two teams of five people head into the ranges; five men and five women. Each team has one member of the Bailey family, namesakes of the business.

The men’s team play quite a small part in the story. We know they are also navigating the trails but after they all set off you don’t hear much from them, we know they made it back to the meeting point on time. One of the men on the team is company chief executive Daniel Bailey, and on the women’s team is chairwoman Jill Bailey.

Five women set out on the path at Mirror Falls with a map and a compass and all they need to get them through the next three days. They are carrying the first nights food but the food for the following days is already at the campsites for the second and third nights. They are due back at the rendezvous point Sunday lunchtime to meet up with the men and bus it back to Melbourne. Sunday comes and the end of the trail is watched, to no avail. Hours late the women emerge from the bush, far from the end of the trail, battered and bloody and missing one of their group.

The search begins in earnest and ramps up rapidly, those conditions aren’t great if you’re unprepared and the weather’s been stormy. It isn’t long before a full scale search is in progress but no-one really expects the Federal Police to be involved.

The missing woman is Alice Russell, who has been working closely with Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper. They are very interested in the progress of the search because she is an integral part of their current investigation, centring on the company she works for.

The story is that of Alice’s disappearance; how, where and why the biggest questions. It takes the entire story but we eventually get those answers. But I am still left with questions; some things I didn’t get answered. Parts of the setup that were vital in the way it came together were then never revisited to let us know how they came to be. It’s a relatively minor thing but even now, days after finishing the book, I’m trying to work out how some things fit into the timeline.

In the beginning it all seems pretty straightforward, place all the pieces together and the picture comes clear. Except that’s not really the way Harper writes, and it doesn’t make for gripping reading when it’s that predictable. So to add avenues we need to throw in historical murders in the Ranges, and the possibility of a teen social media sex scandal.

All of the elements came together seamlessly to stitch a story that had me gripped, and left me completely unsure of what theories I wanted to put my money on. I’m not sure whether there was any factual basis to the historical murders but I was born and bred in the Eastern states so I remember the Belanglo State Forest murders, and that’s what this left me thinking of.

Overall Harper has written a captivating tale across a fluid timeline, that spans a short period of time but switches between the time on the trail and what’s happening in terms of the search when Alice doesn’t make it back.

In alternating chapters we follow the progress, ill-fated though it may be, of the women on their trek as the hike that is meant to help them work together and build resilience does more to make the tensions stronger, and the search efforts and information gathering of the police at the base station.

The writing is tight, the suspense is taut, the relationships are slippery to focus and the characters are complex. The story is one that captivated start to finish and left me wanting to see more of FPA Aaron Falk.

Jane Harper can be found on her Website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Force of Nature is book #42 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2017.

Thanks to Pan MacMillan 10 of our Beauty and Lace club members will be reading and reviewing Force of Nature so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments.

Force of Nature is available now through Pan MacMillan, Booktopia, Angus & Robertson Bookworld and where all good books are sold.


16 thoughts on “Book Club: Force of Nature

  1. Jane Harper’s first novel (“The Dry”) has been hovering around the middle of my “to be read” list, but after reading “Force of Nature”, it’s suddenly shot to the top. This was a brilliant novel, credible and compelling.

    Five women walk into the bush in the Victorian ranges as part of a corporate team building exercise. But the relationships between them are more complex than those between average colleagues, and days later only four women stagger out of the bush. What happened and why? Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particular interest, given that the missing woman is critical to a sensitive investigation.

    It would be fairly clear to most readers that this isn’t the first time Aaron Falk has appeared in print; however, I didn’t find this impacted my enjoyment of this novel at all. Although I was aware there was background I didn’t know, I also didn’t feel it was critical to understanding or appreciating “Force of Nature”.

    This sits firmly in the crime genre, but Harper is interested in exploring relationships more than gruesome crime scenes. Her characters are strongly drawn and believable, and as things disintegrate between the women, it’s easy to imagine yourself making similar choices. This is an enormous strength of the novel, grounding it in a genuinely believable situation and relationships.

    I read this novel pretty much in a sitting, totally caught up with the characters and events. I recommend this strongly to anyone who likes strong characters, as well as crime novels. There’s much more to this than a simple “who dunnit”.

  2. What a great read. Superb pacing, well developed characters. Realistic dialogue. Enticing setting. This novel has it all.
    A thriller that leaves no clues as to ‘who-dun-it’. A Character study that doesn’t bog itself down.

    The slight detours from plot are meticulous in their description. For example: a leaf falling reminds a character of a past experience (which I won’t go into as it is a bit of a spoiler) that shows why this character is how she is.. all within one paragraph. Very well done.

    Jane Harper has obviously a lot of experience writing gripping prose. A journalist for 13 years, and while journalism is supposed to only report facts, in this day and age those ‘facts’ need to be done with flair to keep readers engaged. Engaged I was… right to the end.

    Highly recommended.

  3. Thank you for the opportunity to read Force Of Nature. A novel I thoroughly enjoyed and am heading out to find her previous novel The Dry as soon as I can.

    I was thrilled to find this was not a love story of any kind, but a well rounded novel with plenty of suspense, drama and a hint of more to come. I loved that there was no clue about how it all ended although at times I did get a bit mixed up between the twins, which one had which character traits as they had similar names.

    All the characters fulfilled the role they were given and each female played a part in the events of the disappearance of Alice. Characters that I thought would follow certain paths as per usual roles such as leaders and followers did to a certain degree but being in such a environment brings out the worst and best of people.

    I also enjoyed the fact that the novel went from current time while the detectives were working out what happened and interviewing the remaining 4 females, to them being out in the bush. Both leading up to the actual event and solving the crime. A well written and descriptive novel.

    I look forward to the next novel of Jane Harper and Detective Falk.

    From A new fan of Jane Harper

  4. “Forces of Nature” is Jane Harper’s sophomore novel and it is the follow-up to her successful debut, “The Dry.” Harper’s latest book once again stars Federal Police Agent, Aaron Falk. This time around he is investigating the whereabouts of a missing bushwalker named Alice Russell. She was hiking through the Giralang Ranges as part of a team-building exercise with her boss and three colleagues from work. She was also an important whistle-blower in Falk’s latest case involving money laundering. Russel’s four teammates make it out of the forest alive – albeit battered and bruised – but somewhere, somehow Alice Russell goes missing along the way.

    This book is a gripping thriller. It’s also a novel where Harper does an excellent job with the characterisation. There is a focus on the women’s team and it is interesting that the women have had a series of acrimonious moments and run-ins with Alice. This book ultimately reveals things little-by-little as the story is broken up with one chapter from the time of the hike and the other in real-time as the police are investigating Alice’s disappearance. Harper’s writing absolutely sparkles, it’s almost like she reveals little threads that in the end are woven into the richest of tapestries that are unlike anything seen in nature…

  5. Force of Nature is the first mystery novel I have read in a long while and it didn’t disappoint me.

    Capturing the personalities of each character which makes this story even more mysterious.

    Aaron Falk, as a Federal Police Agent and his colleague Carmen play an important role in not only achieving what they set out to in obtaining secret reports from Alice who works in an accountancy firm, but also then in find out her fate.

    As you read you get a sense that this story, based predominantly in the Giralang Ranges, could go in many different directions.
    No spoilers here as this is a suspense, captivating story about team work, friendship and wrong doing.
    A fantastic, not to be put down until the end, read.

  6. Force of Nature by Jane Harper was a fantastic read, one that I was hesitant to put down to attend to the real world. I have heard of her previous book The Dry, and now it is on my to-read pile for sure.

    The story is about five women going out of the office on a walk through the dense land of the Giralang Ranges – sort of like a team building experience. However, one of the women goes missing, and this leads Falk to investigate what has happened, and there is more than meets the eye with these office co-workers.

    The characters were quite well written and diverse for me, and I kept trying to uncover what exactly had happened as the story went along. It was sort of strange though that the company thought that a group of people could go off into a big bushwalk with no proper guidance, maybe that was just my thought.

    Jane Harper is an amazing, talented writer, who can put all these characters together in a beautiful setting and be able to leave the reader unable to put the book down. It has the all the good features of a crime novel with thrilling storytelling, brilliant settings and dialogues and a great “who did it”. I highly recommend Force of Nature, and also picking up her previous book The Dry and get a good weekend of reading in.

  7. Jane Harper and Force of Nature – Just loved it what a great read kept me turning the pages. An interesting topic to write and the aspect of how it was written. It starts with a very simple work retreat and quickly escalates into a hunt for a lost person possibly murdered.

    I liked the way the plot focused on many different choices of what could have happened and why, ranging from the possibility of a corporate killing to simply a personality clash to a simple accidental death. The reasons for each of these was well explored and left the reader continually changing their mind of “who did it”

    The storytelling leads the reader into many different scenarios of what could have happened in the Giralang Ranges, who did it and why. It also touches on past murder history, just enough to leave the reader wondering if there is more to the disappearance than first appears. The personalities in the book are all strong characters and the various innuendos of what could have happened all seem very plausible .. which leads to the ever turning page need for the reader.

    This book has a great deal of mystery and intrigue to keep the reader entertained and you can almost “feel” the wilderness around you which makes reading it more believable. The description of the countryside and the inner feelings of the characters is well written. It touches on betrayal, disappointment and secrets… I thoroughly enjoyed this book and cant wait to ready more from Jane Harper.

    Thanks you for the opportunity to read and review this book, I really loved it!

  8. Force Of Nature written by Jane Harper is a book the majority of readers won’t be able to put down ( I couldn’t )
    It is a real page turner from the 1st chapter to the last chapter ( no spoilers )
    Aaron Falk and his assistant are federal agents who receive the phone call that Alice Cooper is missing, Alice is collecting evidence from her employer for them.
    Alice has gone missing in the Giralang Ranges Victoria
    Alice is part of a group of 5 women who are on a team building exercise organised through her job at Bailey Tennants
    Their is also a men’s group doing the 3 day hike but they are not mentioned much
    This story is about the 5 women
    This book has present day chapters and also daily heading in regards to the hike, but very easy to read and no confusion,
    This book is not just a who dun it, the author has really put a lot of work into the characters in regards to their past history and their everyday problems
    I throughly enjoyed reading this book thanks you
    I have not read The Dry Jane Harpers other book but I certainly will be

  9. Thank you for the opportunity to read Force of Nature by Jane Harper

    A mystery novel that is a complete page turning who dunnit with a very intense gripping storyline that keeps you guessing to the end

    A story of 5 women on a team building exercise in the ranges of Victoria until one goes missing enter Aaron Falk a federal agent to investigate her disappearance
    This book is filled with good intricate characters described so well that you can picture them in your minds eye a compelling mystery well written and very enjoyable
    I recommend a read for everyone and will now go and find “The Dry”to add to my read list

  10. Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry had me hooked from the beginning to end and she fast tracked herself right to the top of my favourite Australian author list. So I was very excited when her second novel Force of Nature was announced and even more so when I was chosen to review it!

    I loved it! Again she had me neglecting other things as I just couldn’t put it down!

    I love the way she describes the uniquely Australian settings in both her novels. It really helps you to feel your not only reading the story but you could actually be right there watching it unfold infront of you.

    Now stupid me read this book not even realising it was a follow on character from The Dry (duh! But I have read ALOT of books inbetween) and I had no problems understanding the story or characters so you don’t need to necessarily read The Dry first. However I would recommend it as you are going to want to read it after this anyway!

    I cannot recommend Jane’s books enough,
    her writting just seems effortless, her characters believable and her endings realistic.

    Well done to her on another great book!

    Thanks to Beauty and Lace and Pan MacMillan for my chance to enjoy and review another fantastic book!

  11. Wow…wow…wow…what a way to be introduced to a new Author I’ve not read before. Thanks Beauty & Lace for allowing me to be one of the lucky reviewers of this book “Force of Nature’ by Jane Harper.
    I took a week and a half to read this book…but I also had a 4 day Migraine in there, so I would’ve been finished even quicker if not for that. From the very first page I was hooked…I was surprised by just how easy it s to read Jane Harper’s writing, her storylines and sentences and wording, everything just flows, there’s no jerkiness or no areas throughout the entire story where I lost interest.
    The story is set around a character called Alice Russell who goes missing after a week-long orienteering-like exercise in the Giralang Ranges goes horribly wrong. It was supposed to be a team building exercise. Alice is already on the Federal Police’s radar, as they are currently using her as a whistle blower for their investigation into illegal practices that have been going on at the company, BaileyTennant.
    The hunt begins to try find Alice as the two Federal Police that are in charge of the investigation, Falk and Carmen begin their own journey of unravelling new twists and turns that crop up along the way, as well as coming to terms with past events in their own lives.
    Jane made me feel like I was out there in the Ranges, cold & wet, with cold steam coming from my breath, feeling miserable and lost. I loved every character along the way that I was introduced to, each and every person had their own interesting story to share. I had quite a number of guesses going through the book as to what had happened to Alice and although the end wasn’t that surprising to me, I still enjoyed the whole story and the build-up to the end.
    My daughter has already taken the book to read for herself and I have already picked up The Dry, so I can read, although from reading a name that’s mentioned at the end of Force of Nature, I think The Dry may have been the book I should’ve read first…oh well…

    Definitely recommend this to everyone.

  12. Force of Nature is the second book in the Aaron Falk series by Jane Harper. I had read The Dry a couple of months ago and was keen to see how the follow up would be.
    I was pleasantly surprised that Jane was able to follow up strongly. Force of Nature follows a group of people on a corporate wilderness retreat when one person goes missing. Enter Aaron Falk who becomes involved due to a working relationship he had with the missing person.
    Jane Harper provides readers with more details about Aaron Falk’s background and the manner in which she writes is descriptive enough that you get a sense of the environments and characters but not so descriptive that it becomes tedious to read. As with The Dry, the story left the reader wanting to find out “whodunnit”.
    Swapping between the current investigation and the experiences of the women on each day of the retreat was a little tricky to get your head around but I was able to get into the groove of the book easily.
    Recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an Australian story and mystery/ police stories.

  13. Force of Nature is the second book in the Aaron Falk Australian based financial crime federal agent series. The story takes us on a corporate retreat where five women are on a team building bushwalk and one of their members goes missing.
    Liker Jane Harper’s first novel in the series, the Dry, it is based in another iconic Australian setting, the dense bushland, just like the Dry, the writing so good, the reader instantly feels themselves tagging along in the background of the women’s bushwalk.
    Harper builds suspense by writing in both in the present and the past, focusing on the search being conducted by the police and Falk and focusing on the women and how a lot of unfortunate incidents led them to losing one of their members. The dynamic between the middle class corporate women feels much on par with Big Little Lies.
    Harper’s main underlying theme is bullying, it rearing its ugly head throughout the bushwalk as well as in the women’s histories and children’s lives. The book shows us how deeply this affects us and how far these impacts go, as well as showing us throughout the story, the family we have will go to great lengths to protect the ones we love.
    The book was an easy summer read that gives us a deeper look into another Australian subculture and I look forward to more books in the Falk series by Harper.

  14. I read The Dry last year and it was amazing.. and i have been eagerly awaiting her next book. After. It was great to find out that Aaron Falk would be making a return and this time with a female detective as well.. I really enjoyed how the author wrote this storyline, back and forth in each chapter, building the suspense.. . between Falk’s investigation and the ladies lost in the forest… really exciting ,,I think I liked The Dry just a little more than this one, however this was an excellent read and I was so happy to be part of this trial. Thank you xo

  15. Even though this is the #2 book in the Aron Falk series, it’s a great stand alone read.
    I loved Harper’s great description of the Giralang Ranges that I felt I was trekking along with the cast.
    The story unfolding through alternating timelines was easy to follow so often in novels is confusing.
    The underlying “bullying” in the novel goes to prove no matter your age or position bullying is something you can suffer from.
    Really enjoyed this book and it was worth waiting for with the address mix ups
    Now I need to go hunt out Jane’s first novel The Dry

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