The Lost Man
A mysterious death in the Australian Outback is the chilling center piece for Jane Harper’s latest thriller, The Lost Man. The men of the Bright family don’t have the best reputations. Their father Carl had been known for his nasty disposition. Nathan and Bub each have issues. But middle brother Cam is charming, educated, and articulate. Or rather, Cam was those things. Now he is dead, found at an isolated site far from the family homestead, and miles away from where he was meant to be. When relatives, employees, neighbors and friends gather for the funeral, long held resentments burst to the surface, tempers flare and dark secrets threaten to destroy people living precariously on the edge of a brutal, unforgiving land.
Painting a quiet, precise picture of a rugged countryside inhabited by a tenacious, tough population, Harper tells a story that quickly sucks the reader in. It’s a tale that will keep you guessing till the very end.
Reviewers Shannon Dyer and Maggie Boyd read The Lost Man, and are here to share their thoughts on the novel.
Maggie: The stellar reviews of Ms. Harper’s previous works drew me to this book. What drew you to The Lost Man?
Shannon: I read and very much enjoyed both The Dry and Force of Nature last year. When I heard Jane Harper was coming out with a standalone thriller set in the Australian Outback, I was really excited to see how it would compare to her series.
Maggie: The primary protagonist – and amateur investigator – of our tale is Nathan (Nate) Bright, a man with a difficult past and tough present-day existence. He’s a complicated person, not quite a good guy but certainly the best of a challenging group of men. What did you think of him?
Shannon: I initially struggled to warm up to Nate’s character. It was obvious from the start that he had a lot of personal baggage, and that his way of dealing with his past was kind of self-destructive, but as I continued reading, he started to grow on me. I definitely agree with your assessment of how he compares to many of the other characters in the story, especially those who are closest to him.
Maggie: Nate is joined on his journey into the exploration of his brother’s death by a colorful cast of friends, family and community members. In my opinion, one of the strongest aspects of this work is the near stellar job Ms. Harper did of creating some truly memorable secondary characters: Nate’s strong, resilient mother Liz; the more fragile but still fiercely tenacious Ilse; compassionate, clever Xander; the multi-layered Bub; Cam’s sweet daughters and the fascinating employees of Cam’s ranch. And of course, the intriguing denizens of the ‘local’ community!
Easily my favorite among these folks was Xander. He added a kinder, gentler, outsider perspective to the story which enabled both the investigation to begin and Nate to move forward as a person. Who was your favorite character?
Shannon: It’s a toss-up between Ilse and Xander for me. I was intrigued by Ilse, especially the more I learned about her life with Cam and their daughters. She had a backbone of steel even if she didn’t always show it, and I loved that about her. Xander was just an all-around nice guy, the kind I wish I saw more of in today’s fiction. It’s obvious he loves his father fiercely, even if he doesn’t always understand him. I also really liked how the questions he asked caused Nate to look back at his past in some new ways.
Maggie: The setting is absolutely crucial to this tale. The Bright family lives on a huge piece of land in the middle of the Australian Outback. Nate has his own place, which is three hours away from the rest of the family and he is their nearest neighbor! The author hammers home the danger and isolation of their community and how that affects every aspect of their lives. Their dependence on air conditioning to combat killing heat and having their vehicles stocked full of spare tires, bottles of water and enough food for a week showed how perilous their existence is. I felt this portion of the writing was perfectly executed.
Shannon: Agreed. This is one of those rare books in which the setting feels almost like a character in the story. If the author had chosen to set it anywhere else in the world, I doubt it would have worked even half so well as it did here. The beauty and danger of the Australian Outback really came to life for me in these pages.
Maggie: The mystery portion of the book is very low key. At several points, there was a question as to whether the family was dealing with a genuine riddle or simply a very tragic event. I loved that approach to this particular conundrum. What did you think of it?
Shannon: I agree with you about the low-key quality of the mystery portions of the story. This definitely isn’t a book I’d recommend picking up if you’re looking for a fast-paced, twisty thriller. Instead, things unfold gradually with the emphasis on getting to know the individuals involved rather than high-action scenes.
Maggie: There is an unexpected romance towards the end of the story. I’ll admit this was one of the weakest parts of the tale for me. The events the characters had just come out of, the shocking revelations that had been brought to the forefront by the death of Cam and the lack of interaction between the people involved made me deeply skeptical of what was happening. It felt more like a Disney ending than one that would be the natural conclusion to the events in the book. What did you think of the romance?
Shannon: I actually didn’t mind the romance all that much. Ms. Harper did a great job laying the foundation for it early on in the story, and although things happened a little faster than I expected them to given the recent loss the family had suffered, I didn’t find it particularly displeasing.
Maggie: This was my first Jane Harper book, but it definitely won’t be my last. While the saccharine ending caused me to lower my grade a bit, I was still very impressed with the novel and would give it a B+. What’s your overall grade for the book?
Shannon: I’m going with an A-. This is another solidly enjoyable novel from this author, and I’m glad I was given the opportunity to review it.