BookPage Top Pick in Fiction, starred review, February 2019
Jane Harper has had enormous success with her mystery series about loner Detective Aaron Falk (The Dry and Force of Nature), which married the gritty realism of small-town Australian life with complicated criminal investigations. Her new standalone, The Lost Man, is bound to win her further accolades. It’s a timely and riveting family drama set in a desolate area of Queensland that will keep you guessing until the final pages.
When you live under a punishing sun on a cattle ranch the size of a small European country, you know not to travel without a full complement of food, water and a working vehicle. So when Cam Bright is found dead of dehydration in the desert only a few miles from his well-stocked car, his brothers Nathan and Bub are shocked and baffled. The mystery of Cam’s death brings longstanding family tensions between Nathan, Bub, their mother and Cam’s wife, Ilse, to the fore and escalate when decades-old allegations of Cam’s assault of a summer worker resurface. The burden of understanding these complex family ties falls heavily on older brother Nathan, who is dealing with his unresolved feelings for Ilse and trying to build a relationship with his estranged teenage son.
The grim crimes in The Lost Man are as much shaped by the rural landscape as by the actions of any one individual. With thoughtful regard for the impact of domestic violence, Harper keeps a sharp focus on a handful of characters that populate these enormous tracts of land where neighbors live up to three and four hours apart. As in her previous novels, the harsh environment plays a pivotal role, as significant as any of her characters. An unforgiving wasteland, the ranch is a place where isolation takes a long-simmering psychological toll, and everyone knows being out in the sun for too long could kill you.