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‘The man lay still in the centre of a dusty grave under a monstrous sky’

So many book bloggers and book reviewers whose opinions I value have praised Jane Harper from The Dry onwards. I resisted reading her only because some of those trusted reviewers are crime fiction aficionados, and I am not a devotee of any genre, though there are certainly writers in this field I adore such as Patricia Highsmith, and, in more modern vein, Tana French.

Offered the chance to read an advance copy of Harper’s next book, I thought I should see what the fuss was about. And…I see it, I absolutely see it, and am now spending my own money on The Dry and The Force of Nature. Late to the table, but I am there now.

The Lost Man is tremendous, absorbing, powerful. The vast inhospitable brooding Australian outback is a palpable, charismatic and terrifying presence, which loomed into my safe cityscape, through the power of Harper’s evocation. Several times I came back to my here and now world with a kind of shock at its littleness and confinement.

My only question on this book would be the one of genre itself. I would not describe this as crime fiction, or even a dark psychological thriller. It sits firmly lit ficcily. It reminded me (though very different) of Jane Smiley’s lit ficcy reworking of King Lear, Ten Thousand Acres, more than anything. Or some ancient and mythic tragedy from classical times. A vast landscape, powerful, dysfunctional family dynamics, etched through generations.

There is certainly a death, and in circumstances which don’t completely stack up, and there is a policeman, though as his territory patch covers hundreds of miles, he is not, by any means, the one who might be on hand to do any kind of solving

The Bright family cattle farm across a huge swathe of land, territory divided into three. Brothers Cameron, Nathan and Bub are each other’s nearest neighbours. A gravestone, round which local legends have grown up is a solitary orienting landmark in the shimmering, dry desert

Months, even a year even, could slip away without a single visitor passing by…the grave stood mostly alone next to a three wire cattle fence. The fence stretched a dozen kilometres east to a road and a few hundred west to the desert, where the horizon was so flat and far away it seemed possible to detect the curvature of the earth

There was a single homestead somewhere to the north of the fence, and another to the south. Next door neighbours , three hours apart

Cameron Bright is the most successful of the brothers. And, right at the start, it is clear he broke a cardinal rule outbackers know is crucial. Inexplicably, he left his car, in perfect working order, stocked with food and water, on his way to meet with one of his brothers to repair a mast on his territory, and just walked out into the desert and died in obvious agony, of heat exposure and dehydration.

Nathan, the oldest brother, and the one who makes the deepest journey into self and family awareness is the central character. Through him and his understanding, tangled family patterns are explored. Nathan is some kind of pariah, an infamous past history seems to have engulfed and isolated him – yet he is the one who appears to be the closest to being a man of integrity, steadfast. Popular, respected now-dead Cameron may not have been quite as seen. Youngest brother Bub, angry at not being valued by anyone as his brothers’ equal, is erratic and too fond of drink. However, there is a widespread consensus that Nathan is not stable, he has lived alone for far too long, after an acrimonious, bitter divorce. He can’t get people to work for him, and is barely able to make his part of the Bright cattle ranch pay. He had to sell some of his land to Cameron, years earlier.

This is such an absorbing read. It is full of credible twists, turns, revelations. The story – which is not fast paced, unfolds through character, and through landscape. Place is as powerful as psychology.

Highly recommended

I received it as a review copy from Amazon Vine.

And I must pay tribute to an evocative review of a previous novel by Harper from Jane, of Beyond Eden Rock. It was Jane’s praise of The Dry which made me think I should investigate Harper after all, when offered The Lost Man. And I have now devoured, and thoroughly been absorbed by, her earlier books

The Lost Man UK
The Lost Man USA

….for those earlier regular visitors to this blog. – I’m horrified to see I last came to my own blog in September. Blame intense work load (still continuing) Time to read, or time to blog, not time for both. Plus, rather sadly, I read a lot last year which did not make my ‘must be at least a clear and obvious 4 star, and preferably 5 star, to get reviewed on here’ rule. I do hope to post some reviews more frequently than once every 4 months!. Erm..Happy Earlyish February!