When Jane Harper writes about the Australian outback, the vastness and searing heat are vivid. So too are the characters who live in this harsh climate. This is another Harper murder mystery. A husband and father is found dead by an old lonely grave. His car is found nine kilometres away. Why someone who knew the landscape so well would wander from his vehicle is beyond strange. In this landscape, without water, it doesn’t take long to die.
What unfolds is the kind of story you sometimes hear in the bush: a somber story of families that look alright on the outside but which contain inter-generational violence and cruelty. Many a man becomes a tyrant, an expert in physical and emotional abuse. This is not apparent at first, as loner Nathan leaves his struggling farm to come home after his brother’s death. Harper treads with sure footing as she unravels the psychological complexities of this family as she did in her previous novels, and the result is as gripping as before. I suspect that many others will do as I did, and read it straight through. Many will empathise with Nathan’s sadness as he considers the results of the choices he has made and be glad about the surprising, but not surprising ending. Top marks.