by Jane Harper
Days before Christmas, the three Bright brothers — Nathan, Cameron and Bub — are at the boundaries of their properties in the Australian Outback.
Two are alive. One is dead in the baking heat of the Outback’s summer sun.
The dead one, Cameron, is probably the best liked and most successful of the three. The cattle station he runs with Bub is well-organized and making money. He has a lovely wife and two daughters.
Cameron’s body and car, abandoned in an outcropping of rocks some distance away, were discovered by a bush pilot when Cameron failed to meet Bub as planned to repair a radio mast in the opposite direction from the homestead.
With no signs of foul play, the death is particularly mysterious. Born and raised in the Outback, Cameron knew the dangers of being without food and water. Could it have been suicide? His car was in good working order, keys on the passenger seat and food and water in the cooler in the back of the truck.
Page by page, author Jane Harper releases clues and insights about Cameron and life on the homestead that ratchet up the dread and suspense until you simply can’t put this book down.
Of Harper’s three books — the other two being The Dry and Force of Nature — this is my favorite. Like those two, the countryside and the climate are almost characters in the story. There’s a kiss of a connection between this book and The Dry; Liz Bright, mother of the three brothers, is the sister of Mal Deacon, a nasty character in The Dry. If you’ve read The Dry, it will heighten the tension but it isn’t necessary to have read that book before reading The Lost Man.
This book is well-written with superbly planted clues that leave you at the end thinking, “Of course, there’s no other possible outcome for this situation.” The Lost Man is like the reverse of a classic “locked room” mystery in which a murder occurs in a room locked from the inside with no way out.
In this case, an impossible death occurs in wide open spaces to man who knew the climate and had a working, well-prepared car.
The only disappointment here is that there’s not another Harper mystery to reach for at the moment.
Another book about murder in drought-stricken Australia is Chris Hammer’s Scrublands.
About the Author: Jane Harper (1980 – )
Her first book, The Dry, won the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel. According to Amanda Coe, a writer for The Guardian, The Dry has been optioned by the production company that did “Gone Girl” (2014).
Her second book, Force of Nature, involves five women on a corporate staff development retreat who get lost in the bushland of the Giralang Ranges. Coe described the book as “Deliverance” (1972) with estrogen or a menopausal “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (1975).
Originally from the United Kingdom, Harper moved with her family to Australia when she was eight years old. She now lives in Melbourne. She worked as a print journalist for 13 years before taking an online class that led to her writing The Dry.