Review: “Force of Nature,” Jane Harper

Rating: 5 out of 5

Sometimes I hear about authors in roundabout ways. This time, the guy from my college who was helping me with my resume saw that I reviewed genre novels and told me I should read Jane Harper’s thriller/mystery The Dry. I loved it so much that I almost immediately afterward went on to read Force of Nature: A Novel. It’s every bit as good.

The company of BaileyTennants sent a bunch of its employees on a kind of corporate retreat in the woods. The women took one trail, and the men took another. When the women arrive–late and injured–they’re missing one of their number. Alice Russell has vanished. The group insists she left to move on in the middle of the night because she didn’t want to wait until morning, but there’s reason to believe that isn’t the case. Federal Agent Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper were using Alice to get files and contracts implicating her bosses in money laundering, and more. On the night she disappeared, she tried to leave a voice mail for Aaron. While rescuers search the woods looking for Alice, Aaron and Carmen question everyone involved, trying not to give any hint to the employees that they are in fact already investigating the bosses. So the question is, did one or more of the ladies do something to Alice? Did the son of a serial killer who’s rumored to live in the woods nearby kill her? Did someone else, like maybe the guy running the executive adventures company, do something? There’s a lot of ill-will between the various women, leaving Aaron and Carmen with quite a few suspects.

Force of Nature follows after The Dry. Aaron is still facing some of the fallout from what happened in that novel. I don’t think you have to have read it first–this is primarily about the mystery–but it wouldn’t hurt to have that personal background for Aaron. Besides, The Dry is an excellent novel worth reading!

The characters have a lot of depth to them. There’s Jill, who didn’t want to work for her father but when he insisted, she buckled down and got to work. Her brother is the CEO. We gradually discover that Alice isn’t exactly going to be missed by a lot of people, with the exception of her teenaged daughter. Beth and Bree–twins–are about as different as night and day. Bree is Alice’s assistant, and constantly trying to impress the woman. Beth is the troublemaker of the family, although not always in the ways you might expect. Lauren and Alice both went to the “Endeavor Ladies’ College” together, which put some focus on learning to handle the out-of-doors, and their daughters have followed in their footsteps.

The women find a mysterious, run-down cabin out in the woods, and they start to wonder whether it has any connection to a serial killer who hunted the area some years ago. He was caught, but everyone wonders if his missing son has picked up the family torch. We watch the women make their way through the woods in parallel to the unfolding investigation, and it’s timed well. I never felt confused as to where or when I was.

This is a really fascinating tale and I highly recommend it!

Content note for death and injury of course.

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