Jane Harper’s third novel, The Lost Man, opens with a death which seems to make little sense. It’s a mystery that’s all the more disorientating for being set in the harsh and unfamiliar landscape of a Queensland summer. Here’s what it’s about:
Two brothers meet at the remote border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of the outback. In an isolated part of Australia, they are each other’s nearest neighbour, their homes hours apart.
They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old that no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish.
Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he choose to walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…
Aaron Falk, the detective from Jane Harper’s previous two novels, is a no show in this latest book but he’s not the lost man of the title. That distinction seems to be shared between two brothers: the dead man, Cameron, who looks to have strayed too far from his car and become disoriented in the heat, and Nathan, who needs to know whether his brother did so deliberately.
Youngest brother, Bub, may feel sidelined in the family business but it’s Nathan, the eldest, who is cut off from people both physically and emotionally. Divorced and living on his own, except for the present time when his son is visiting from Brisbane, he’s been ostracised by the community, both settled and itinerant, for breaching an unwritten outback code ten years ago. As the novel progresses and you get to know the man better, you can’t help but hope there’s a chance of redemption for him here, together with some sense of release for the family.
Jane Harper’s description of the land and its people is as blistering as the Queensland heat. My skin prickled as I read and I could almost feel the ubiquitous red dust on its pages, as both the mystery surrounding Cameron’s death and the family involved unravel. It’s especially absorbing if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live and work on a remote outback station. What kind of person would you need to be to survive such a life in that landscape? Read more