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?
The stockman’s grave as the setting for the discovery of Cameron’s body serves to remind us just how isolated someone is out here and how quickly things can go wrong: the neighbouring properties are expansive and remote, the climate and landscape unforgiving, and inevitably this takes a toll on the people who live and work there, as well as how much they have to fend for themselves. There may be a police sergeant in the nearest town but he’s responsible for such a vast area that he can’t possibly deal with everything in the way we’d expect to happen here in the UK. It’s understandable so much is left to Nathan.
Throughout the book, Jane Harper keeps bringing her story back to that lonely marker of the stockman’s grave and I enjoyed hearing different versions of the myths that have grown up around this landmark, and seeing how the theories behind Cameron’s death could similarly form their own version, only adding to its notoriety. And, ultimately, it’s fitting that the only local to have bothered to unearth the true story behind the stockman’s grave, is the one searching for answers to his own brother’s death at the same site.
The Lost Man is an extremely satisfying read: it felt like a slow but intense burn yet I gulped it down in two goes to get my Harper hit. Now firmly on my list of authors to read as soon as a new book’s released.
The Lost Man is Jane Harper’s third novel and it is published by Little, Brown here in the UK. It’s available now in audiobook and ebook format and the hardback comes out tomorrow. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it on Hive and support your local independent bookshop. For more on Jane Harper and her books, check out her Author Website or follow her on Twitter.
It’s Day Three of the blog tour for #TheLostMan – follow the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to check out the other participating blogs below.