Title: Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Aaron Falk Series Book Two
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 329 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
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?
Force of Nature is a perplexing mystery about a woman who disappears during a corporate team-building exercise in the Australian bushland. This second installment in the Aaron Falk series is a sharp contrast to the first novel, The Dry, but this newest release from Jane Harper is equally compelling.
Jill and Daniel Bailey, siblings and co-owners of the BaileyTennants Accounting firm, are among the group of employees who are on a team-building adventure in the Giralong Ranges. At the end of the retreat, all of the men safely return, but one of the women, Alice Russell, is missing after their group becomes lost during the hike. The police have a rather garbled account of what occurred between Alice, her assistant, Breanna “Bree” McKenzie, Bree’s sister Beth, Lauren Shaw and Jill.
Federal Police Agents Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper become involved in the search for Alice because she is surreptitiously providing evidence in a case they are building against BaileyTennants. The morning of her disappearance, Alice left a voice message on Aaron’s phone, but due to poor cell reception he could only make out a small portion of what she said. With horrendous rain and the rugged terrain hindering their search, fears quickly grow that their quest to find Alice might end in tragedy.
Jill is the chairwoman of the company and she is reluctantly part of the excursion at the behest of Daniel. She is horribly out of shape and not a fan of their wilderness endeavor. Both Alice and Lauren have experience with hiking but their longstanding, somewhat dark history often pits them against one another as they try to decide how to proceed after they go off track. Beth and Bree might be sisters but their once close relationship fractured after Beth’s life wildly deviated from her sister’s successful climb up the corporate ladder. All of the women’s complex relationships come into play as they fight for survival during their horrific experience in the bushland.
Aaron and Carmen are only a very small part of the ongoing investigation into BaileyTennants’ business practices and they can only guess what charges will be eventually be brought against the company. What they do know is the inquiry is at a crucial juncture and they are in desperate need of the documents that Alice was about to turn over to them. Unsure of whether or not her disappearance has anything to do with their investigation, Carmen and Aaron arrive at Giralong Ranges hoping the other members of the retreat can provide answers for what went wrong during the hike. However, they quickly deduce that the women might not be as forthcoming as they could be, but what exactly are they hiding from the investigators?
The first puzzling bit of information that Aaron and Carmen learn is Daniel was unexpectedly detained before he, Jill and their employees were to depart for Giralong Ranges. They also discover that Daniel sought out Alice the first night of the hike after the women made camp. No one knows what they discussed but all of the women admit Alice was not quite herself the next morning. They quickly glean the women’s tempers flared at different times throughout the second day and after the women are hopelessly lost, Alice further antagonized the party with her highhanded, know it all attitude. Although the women eventually find shelter, they continue to bicker and disagree about whether or not they should wait for a rescue team to find them or continue trying to find their back to the rendezvous point.
Written from alternating points of view, Force of Nature is an intricately plotted mystery that is quite riveting. Unexpected rivalries, jealousy, unanticipated rifts and shocking resentment all contribute to what happen to the women during their attempts to find their way the designated meeting point. Aaron and Carmen might not be officially assigned to the search, but Aaron is instrumental in putting together the pieces of what happened to Alice. One of Jane Harper’s strengths as an author is her ability to bring the setting vibrantly to life and the location and weather conditions are vital elements of the unfolding story. This newest addition to the Aaron Falk series is a complex and multi-dimensional mystery that fans of the genre are going to LOVE.