Book review: Jane Harper writes engrossing third novel
The three Bright brothers, bonded by blood, history and the vagaries of the Australian outback, are the true lost men of Jane Harper’s engrossing third novel, “The Lost Man.”
“The Lost Man” works as a story about families and also as a tale about surviving in the outback, a “land of extremes where people were either completely fine or they were not.” Certain rules “written in blood” guide life in the Queensland part of Australian — break one and the outback is not just unforgiving, it can be fatal. Here it’s a hardscrabble life, the nearest neighbor may be a three-hour drive away, death from dehydration is a reality and checking in regularly with others is vital.
Oldest brother Nathan Bright is isolated even more than the norm, banished from the town of Balamara for breaking one of those Australian rules and is semi-estranged from his family. He spends his solitary life tending a dying ranch, waiting for those infrequent visits from his teenage son, Xander. He and youngest brother, Bub, are brought together when the body of middle brother, Cam, is found near the landmark grave of an old stockman, an area icon wrapped up in legend. Cam’s well-stocked vehicle, filled with food and water as it should be, is found miles away from his body. How Cam, so well-seasoned in the ways of Australia, ended up dead forms the crux of “The Lost Man.”
Cam’s death forces Nathan to re-examine his life and how he has thrown himself into the life of a loner. Cam seemed to have it all — an intelligent wife, two daughters and a prosperous farm. He was well-liked in ways that Nathan, and to an extent Bub, never could be. But Cam had a dark side that few knew about, evidenced as secrets begin to spill out.
Solid, believable characters fill “The Lost Man.” But equally important is the exploration of the outback where “too much space” gives way to resentments. Helicopters are used to round up cattle and long-range radios are a necessity in this “perfect sea of nothingness. If someone was looking for oblivion, that was the place to find it.”
Harper’s “The Lost Man” is storytelling at its finest.
“Without any exception the worst snow storm known since the advent of the railroad west of Leadville has been raging over the crest of the continental divide since last Thursday,” asserted the Aspen Tribune on January 31, 1899.