Friday, September 06, 2019

Discovering Jane Harper

There's something exciting about discovering a new author and exploring their work in quick order. Jane Harper is Manchester born, but very much Australian raised. Her authentic style is a real tribute to her career in journalism - the eye for how things work, and ear for how people speak, and a real appreciation of that uniqueness of a place and its own role in the development of a story. In her case, all of her opening three books are set against the challenging terrain of the vast expanses of the Australian outback.

At first I thought I liked her first one, The Dry, the most of all; small town tensions and a classic mystery twister. But having had a couple of days to mull it over, the most recent book, The Lost Man, really is a masterpiece of modern thriller writing. It's still spinning around my head a few days later, the real test of quality. The Dry and Force of Nature both feature the central character, federal detective Aaron Falk, and bring out the harsh environment by contrasting it with city life. The Lost Man sits very firmly in the hottest, most isolated and utterly sparse deep desert of Queensland.

I spent a few weeks out that way in 1984 on a Queensland cattle farm a few hundred kilometers inland. You never quite get over the distances and the sense that a way of life has been grafted on to this land in fairly short order. Five years later when I lived in Perth, there was always the pull of the city from my sporadic and enjoyable sojourns into the red centre, but the contrasts were shockingly stark.

What Jane Harper has managed to do is remarkable. She has brought complexity and subtlety to human relationships as well as those harsh collisions with the earth. As well as the frequent "screen door slams" in The Lost Man, evoking Bruce Springsteen, I'm going to be very disappointed if the soundtrack for the forthcoming film of The Dry doesn't find a place for Wide Open Road by The Triffids. 

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