Friday, August 28, 2020

Review of The Lost Man by Jane Harper (2018, Abacus)

Deep in the Australian outback Cameron Bright’s body is discovered by his two brothers at Stockman’s grave, a bleak, isolated spot, having perished in the searing heat. His vehicle being parked some kilometres away suggests foul play, but other circumstantial evidence indicates misadventure or suicide. It’s not uncommon given the rural isolation and Cam seemed off-colour for weeks before his death. Nathan, the eldest of the siblings and social outcast, wants answers but the rest of the Bright family and ranch hands are more concerned with his mental wellbeing, their own problems, and preparing for the funeral and Christmas. And the police are several hours away, busy, and unconvinced that the death was anything more than a tragic incident. Nathan hasn’t spent this much time with others in a decade and he’d sooner retreat to his own failing ranch, but something about Cam’s death has got under his skin. 

Harper’s tale charts Nathan’s faltering investigation into his brother’s death, slowly revealing secrets and dark moments that shadow the Bright homestead. The telling is nicely evocative, with a strong sense of place, realistic rendering of ranch and family life, and tensions and social relations among an isolated, resilient community, and well-painted characters. The real strength of story is the tight crafting of plot, which is free of awkward or contrived plot devices; mixing reminisce and mystery it creates a slow burn sense of unease and intrigue, leading to an understated and satisfying denouement. The result is an engaging tale of a lost man wandering back towards redemption.


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