FORCE OF NATURE

 

Author: Jane Harper

Data: 320 Pages, Flatiron Books, $25.99

By Brandy Hilboldt Allport

For the Times-Union

Agent Aaron Falk of the Federal Police in Australia is back for his second thriller. First introduced in Jane Harper’s 2017 mystery, “The Dry,” Falk is a dedicated law enforcement officer specializing in financial investigations.

This time, Falk is hired on with his partner, Carmen Cooper, to look into some questionable practices at a corporate firm called BaileyTenants. A high-level executive, Alice Russell, takes on the role of whistleblower. Through information Russell provides, Falk and Cooper are poised to take down BaileyTenants.

As the corporate financial shenanigans inquiry continues — (in secret of course) — five colleagues from BaileyTenants go on an outdoor retreat designed to remove them from their comfort zones and foster team-building skills. Five women, including Alice Russell, travel into the Giralang Ranges three hours outside Melbourne. Only four women come out at the rendezvous point.

“Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No-one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you.”

Russell’s disappearance stirs up grim memories for everyone. Twenty years ago, a serial killer named Martin Kovac left the bodies of young female hikers throughout the same area of the Giralang. Oh, of course, Kovac is dead, but the haunting recollections cast an even deeper pall on the situation of the missing BaileyTenants exec.

Does Russell’s disappearance have anything to do with the plans she made with Falk to finally blow the lid off the company where she made her career? What about the ominous muffled message Russell left on Falk’s cellphone. Does the truncated cry for help have anything to do with wrong-doings in the wilderness?

As Falk, with Cooper at his side, investigates the personal lives of all the women involved in the corporate retreat gone wrong, possible motives for the disappearance abound.

Accomplished crime thriller author Jane Harper layers her story as thick as the brush in The Outback. Secrets revealed as the investigation unfolds will keep readers guessing until the unlikely plot reveals itself in the last pages of the novel. Fans of her debut book “The Dry” will find “Force of Nature” lives up to the exciting expectations Harper is becoming known for building.

Brandy Hilboldt Allport can be reached at brandysbookmarks1@oulook.com