A massive search and rescue operation is launched when Alice Russell goes missing on a corporate retreat at the Giralang Ranges but each of her four companions has a reason for not wanting Alice to be found.
Alice Russell was a whistleblower who was in the process of sending evidence to Federal Agent Aaron Falk proving her company was involved in corruption and money laundering but Alice’s disappearance put the case in jeopardy. While Falk is pressured from his bosses to find the missing documents, he is more concerned with Alice’s safety and is stricken with guilt when he realises she left him a partial voicemail indicating she was in danger. Falk travels to Giralong to help with the search but their investigation is hampered by the varying statements provided by Alice’s colleagues. Who is lying and who is telling the truth?
While at Giralang, Falk also learns about the place’s dubious connection to Martin Kovac, a serial killer, whose last victim was never recovered. While Kovac may be long gone, he casts a long shadow over the area, particularly since some believed he was not killing alone. Has Alice become the latest victim?
Force of Nature is the second book in the Aaron Falk series which began with The Dry but this time the focus moves to the wild and unforgiving landscape of the Giralang Ranges where the rain seems to be relentless. Just as the drought-ridden outback played an important part in the atmosphere of the first novel, the Giralang Ranges provide a sinister back drop to the events that play out in this novel. The region’s historical connection to the serial killer also adds to the overall creepiness factor, especially in the flashback sequences where every sound or movement in the dark seems magnified.
At the heart of this story is the disappearance of Alice Russell who has a connection with Aaron Falk through his investigation into her company’s activities, however since each of her colleagues has a reason to despise her, it is by no means a given that Alice’s disappearance is connected to Aaron’s case. Nevertheless, Aaron feels guilty for putting Alice in danger and his primary objective is to find her despite the fact his boss is more concerned about the missing documents Alice was supposed to provide. This time we get to see Aaron doing his actual job which still doesn’t sound very exciting but Harper manages to hold our interest because Aaron is a very sympathetic character who genuinely cares about people.
Aaron is partnered with Carmen Cooper and they make a likeable team with a frisson of unresolved sexual tension despite the fact Carmen is due to get married. I’m not sure if Carmen is going to be Aaron’s partner but I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing them paired permanently. Aaron remains to be an intriguing character and although we’ve learned a great deal about him so far, I still don’t feel like I know him as a character and am looking forward to seeing more layers being peeled back. While Aaron still seems like a loner, his interactions with other people, like Carmen, are important tools for drawing him out. He’s also pushed more into the background in this novel which doesn’t help the situation.
While the pace is initially quite slow, Harper keeps everything ticking along nicely as the narrative shifts from the search for Alice in the present to flashbacks of the women on their retreat which inevitably leads to the events surrounding Alice’s disappearance. The tensions between the various members of the group are revealed as they interact with each other at different points during the retreat and it is evident they all have grudges. None of the women, including Alice, are without their faults and it was fascinating watching the office politics intensify in the wild setting.
The two threads of the plot eventually converge into one and when the mystery surrounding Alice’s disappearance is finally resolved, it is done in a satisfying way although not exactly cliche free. While Force of Nature is nowhere near as good as The Dry, it was still enjoyable and I’m interested to see what happens to Aaron next.