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There was a single homestead somewhere to the north of the fence, and another to the south. Next-door neighbours, three hours apart. The road to the east was invisible from the grave itself. And road was a generous description. The wide dirt track could sit silent for days without being troubled by a vehicle.

The track eventually led to the town of Balamara – a single street, really – which catered loosely for a scattered population that could almost fit into one large room, when gathered. Fifteen hundred kilometres further east lay Brisbane and the coast.”


Nature and landscape play central roles in Jane Harper’s previous books and The Lost Man, published today in the UK, is no different. It opens with the discovery of Cameron Bright’s body on a landmark known to locals as the stockman’s grave, and it’s here that his brothers, Bub and Nathan, and Nathan’s teenage son, Xander, gather. There appear to be no signs of foul play and yet Cam’s death was a hard one, the Australian sun merciless and unrelenting.

They lived in a land of extremes … People were either completely fine, or very not.’

On the face of it, Cam’s death makes no sense. His working, fully stocked car is found less than nine kilometres away from the place he died and no one familiar with the territory would leave their vehicle in such circumstances. Nathan is particularly troubled by Cam’s death, but he has his own not insubstantial issues to deal with, including a son whom he seldom sees, a town which hates him and his own challenged relationship with Cam, informed by their shared past.

As in Harper’s other novels, each character in The Lost Man is not quite what he or she appears. Everyone has a back story and often a secret or two buried within it. The relationship between the Bright brothers is an uneasy one, all three dealing with quite monumental issues caused by their upbringing, their relationship to their father, the isolation and the reality of day-to-day living in such extreme conditions, where people are at the mercy of nature – and, to some degree, nurture – and where perception seems to have more truth than reality.

Nathan is an intriguing character, paying the price for one moment of indecision which has impacted on every aspect of his life in the ten years since. When we meet him, Nathan, like Bub, is another lost man, and Cam’s death becomes the catalyst for change. In seeking the truth of it, he seemingly stumbles on a way back to himself.

Harper carefully leads us to through a quagmire of clues and false starts to the events that actually led to Cam’s death. As in The Dry, nature is the all-encompassing god, controlling everything, from the way people live to the way they die. Here, in this vast landscape, where people can go days without seeing anyone, gossip and rumour influence the way people are viewed by their peers and, on the homesteads, law and what is permissible are both dictated by the men in charge. Here, books can be burned, dogs baited and women and children treated as mere possessions of the men to whom they belong. There’s an underlying violence to everything.

While fans of Aaron Falk may come to The Lost Man a tad disappointed that the great man does not make an appearance, the book itself does not disappoint. Harper’s pared back language and short, clear sentences control the pace of the novel and the way in which the story unfolds. Here, as in The Dry, we can almost taste the dust, feel the heat of the unrelenting sun and experience the epic scale of the landscape and our own tiny little places within it. It’s this evocation of place and experience that Harper is a true master at. And it’s this that keeps us so engaged. This that makes her writing stand out. And this that makes us diehard fans.


Jane Harper‘s The Lost Man • UK publication: 7 February 2019 | Little, Brown | Hardback

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Credits: This review is published as part of the Little, Brown book tour. Thank you to Caolinn Douglas and Grace Vincent, senior publicity manager at Little, Brown, for inviting us and also for supplying a book proof. Quoted text: Copyright © 2018 by Jane Harper. Image © The Literary Shed 2019. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; ‘Force of Nature – aka where’s Alice Russell’ (Aaron Falk #2); ‘The Woolgather’s Companion – love in time of war’; Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdad’s Sing’; ‘The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola’s Gothic novel‘; ‘Midland‘; ‘The stark beauty of William Shaw’s Salt Lane‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘We should all be feminists’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets’; ‘Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng’s rising star’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘To Kill a Mockingbird (1962 trailer); ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.