Sense of place is Jane Harper’s trademark as an author, and this is no exception. In her sequel to The Dry she takes forensic accountant Aaron Falk well out of his element, into Victoria’s dense’ly forested high country.
A corporate teambuilding exercise has gone terribly wrong. Four women make it to the rendesvouz point half a day late, exhausted, hungry, injured. Abrasive Alice is missing. “In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four has asked after Alice’s welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.”
Alice is Falk’s reluctant inside woman as he investigates money laundering at BaileyTennants. She has been pulling back as his boss piled on the pressure to get hold of incriminating contracts. Then a late night call from Alice during her time in the bush draws him into the search. “Nothing, nothing, and then, in the darkness, a faraway voice spoke two words in his ear. ‘… hurt her … ‘ “.
The narrative follows the dual threads of the search and the women’s journey as they take a wrong turn, become lost, and violently disagree on how to find their way out of their predicament. Tensions they brought with them wind tighter and break them apart. Twin sisters, one on the corporate ladder and the other a failure with a criminal record. Old school friends, whose daughters are reliving their rivalries. The CEO, tangled in awkward family relationships. These are well drawn characters, and the resolution satisfies.
The search is the weaker strand. Falk’s direct involvement is not particularly credible, and lacks his more personal link to the crime as in The Dry. His discoveries when he heads back to Melbourne do shine some light on the relationships between the missing women, but the leftover daddy issues and hints of a relationship with his partner are filler. Harper made the right decision to leave him behind in her later novels and focus on protagonists rooted in the landscapes she depicts so well.