Whether it was the busyness of the festive season, when I was trying to read Harper’s ‘The Lost Man’, or the lack of charismatic lead Aaron Falk from her first two novels (‘The Dry’ is currently being made into a movie), it did take a while for this offering to truly engage me. It was not until about half way through that, yes, I had to up the ante because I needed to find out just what exactly was the solution to the mystery of Cam Bright’s inexplicable death in the wastelands. Why commit suicide the way he did it? There must be easier ways, surely.
Eventually it dawns on brother Nathan that maybe it wasn’t self-inflicted. He figures out there’s more to this outback tragedy than meets the eye – there’s just so much that doesn’t add up. Nathan himself is damaged goods. The woman he took a shine to is now married to Cam – or was. His own missus has long fled the family property way, way back of beyond, taking their son with them. At least he still gets to see him. Nathan has also committed one of the desert’s major sins and thus has been sent to Coventry by all the neighbours and townsfolk in his sparsely populated community. He’s virtually living a life as a semi-hermit until his brother’s terrible passing. This rips him out of his negative mind-set and he begins to realise that maybe a change is possible.
But if it wasn’t by Cam’s own doing, who orchestrated it and why? As this is processed the deeper we delve into the novel, the more it is realised that Cam wasn’t exactly who his nearest and dearest thought he was. In fact, Nathan may not be the only black sheep. Younger brother Lee, or Bub as he is known, emerges as someone who may have reason to have perpetrated the foul deed, but then, it turns out, something also doesn’t make sense with the behaviour of ‘Uncle’ Harry. And was the departed one’s marriage to Ilse as strong a union as had been thought? There’s also those two Brit backpackers, always on the fringe of events. As well, a blast from the past presents herself in an unsettling manner. Liz, the matriarch, is grieving, for her son, the fracturing of the family and the gradual whittling away of what her late husband had built up. All this keeps Nathan and the reader guessing to the end.
Set where agriculture is a fragile activity, ‘The Lost Man’ has a whiff of Winton’s ‘The Shepherd’s Hut’ about it, containing, as it does too, a dominant and challenging landscape. Its harshness is as foreign to most of us littoral dwellers as the other side of the moon. This is not the equal of ‘The Dry’, but Harper’s reputation will not be diminished by this cracking (once we get going) Aussie whodunit.
The authors web-site = http://janeharper.com.au/