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The Lost Man by Jane Harper - Review

Sunday, February 11, 2024

This was the February book choice for my book club and as usual it wasn't something I would have ever looked at twice I don't think. But I was incredibly intrigued by it so picked it up at the beginning of February. It took me a week to read because at the beginning I didn't really get it and was taking ages to read just a few pages. But then something clicked in and I realised it was all coming together and a lot of hints had been there to guide you into realising what happened. I raced through the last third. 

So, the book is about a family who live in the middle of the outback absolutely miles away from anywhere. Nathan is the protagonist of the book. Right at the beginning he is driving with his son to the stockman's grave, which is on the Bright cattle station, which is huge. It's in the far south east of the property, which isn't too far from the road that runs north/south. Nathan's property is much smaller, and is to the southern border of the Bright ranch. He struggles to run it, for reasons that become clear. Nathan's son Xander is sixteen and is visiting from Brisbane for Christmas. Nathan's ex, Jacqui, left him like a decade ago and is remarried, and they don't get on, but Nathan misses his son and wants to bridge the gaps between them. 

They arrive at the grave alongside Bub, Nathan's youngest brother. There they have been told is the body of the middle brother, Cameron. A police officer and a nurse, Steve, turn up to investigate the death. Cameron's car is found about ten kilometres away, on a rocky outcrop near where the north/south road meets the east/west road, which leads, in three hours' drive, to the local town, Balamara. Cameron could have walked away from his car, but why? He clearly had no supplies with him and has died from the heat and dehydration from being exposed near the grave. There are no injuries on his body. When they find the car, they realise he could have kept himself going for a while if he had stayed close to it - he had water, food, first aid, fuel - all the things that the whole family needs to keep in their cars in case they get stranded or something. So why would he walk away? And why was he at the grave?

Nathan and Xander head back to the Bright house and don't go back to Nathan's. There a few people also live. There's Liz, the men's mum. Her husband Carl was killed in a car accident and his grave is on the homestead. He was a nasty and abusive person and throughout the book we learn some of the horrific things that he did to Nathan, Cameron, and Bub. There isn't much of a gap between Nathan and Cam so they grew up together, but there's then a decade between them and Bub, so he had a different experience of childhood. 

There's Ilse, Cameron's widow, and their two children, Sophie and Lois, who are like eight and five or something. Ilse is Dutch and she was a backpacker in the area and actually she had a bit of a thing with Nathan to begin with, but then he got into trouble in the town and she met Cameron, not realising they were brothers. Nathan clearly still holds a thing for her and tries to not be around her too much. Sophie has hurt her arm on her horse, which is one of the many things that becomes significant later. 

Harry also lives on the site, in a cabin. He is a ranchhand, and has been there since before Nathan was born. He's dependable and reliable, but he was heard arguing with Cameron shortly before his death. Then there are two backpackers from England, Simon and Katy. Katy is supposedly teaching the girls and Simon helps on the station. They are obviously weirded out that their boss is dead, and don't really know what to do. 

Nathan has been living a really lonely life because he is a pariah in the town. I won't spoil why but I think this will be an interesting discussion at book club as to whether we think he was justified or not. He finds it hard to be back in the cradle of his family, but he does want to know what happened to Cameron. 

The book has a really gothic feel to it. The isolation and the heat all conspire to add insecurity and fear to the book. It's oppressive. The Bright house seems dark and oppressive throughout the whole thing, looked upon as it is by the grave of Carl Bright. The isolation is just loopy - the spaces involved are just incomprehensible to my English brain. There's a map in the book which did really help. 

I really liked Nathan and wanted him to succeed. I did guess what the outcome might be as I was racing through the final third and I was glad I got it! I'm giving this five out of five and I'll definitely read something else by Jane Harper in the future. 

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