There is something hauntingly claustrophobic about the outback, at least when Jane Harper portrays it. The environment is as much of a character as the humans who inhabit it. Nothing for miles around but parched land and the odd cow. Here your nearest neighbour is 3 hours away. So there is something of a closed room mystery about The Lost Man, even though the death of Cameron Bright happens in the wide open air.
This is a slow-moving book, there are no big chases or overt threats, rather there is the threat of something under the surface as the reader is unsure who to trust or who has the most to hide.
There is, inevitably, something not quite right with the Bright family. The isolation has harboured secrets that have managed to remain buried, or at least unacknowledged, for years. It’s those secrets that threaten to come to the surface when Cameron’s body is found. The sense of unease continues throughout as more is revealed about the lead up to his death.
There are two back stories running throughout, one relating to the family as a whole and one which led to Nathan being ostracised from the community. I’ll admit I wasn’t that keen on the latter, it seemed a little forced, but it explained Nathan’s character as it was in the present day.
Despite his issues I liked Nathan, all of the good parts of him are mirrored in his son Xander. Bub, Nathan’s younger brother is under appreciated. At the farm there is Liz, the Bright brothers mother, Harry, the farm hand and two backbackers. There is also Cameron’s children and Ilse, his wife, who has her own history with Nathan that has affected him for many years. Whilst the story revolves around them, there is still the feeling that only parts of their characters are revealed.
Although there is a mystery to solve, this is at heart, more of a family drama, of the dynamics of growing up miles from the next house, of adapting to the harsh needs of the landscape and surviving.
An atmospheric, location driven read. I look forward to more from Jane Harper in the future.