Force of Nature
Force of Nature is the corporate teambuilding retreat you never want to go on. When five women from BaileyTennants accounting firm begin a four-day excursion in the Australian Bushland and only four return, police and rescue workers begin an urgent search. Mirror Falls is a dangerous place, with dense growth, confusing trails and no cell signal.
The four women who emerge from the forest are hungry, dehydrated and bruised and none of them can explain what happened to their colleague Alice Russell.
To make matters worse, Alice is lost in the same area where a young woman went missing twenty-five years earlier. Sarah Sondenberg was never found, but three other women were killed around the same time and a man named Martin Kovac went to jail for the murders. Does Martin’s son, Samuel have anything to do with Alice’s disappearance?
Federal Agent Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper are especially interested in finding Alice. She’s their inside contact at BaileyTennants, under suspicion for money laundering. Falk and Carmen are trying to acquire documents to implicate Chairwoman Jill Bailey (one of the women) and her CEO brother, Daniel Bailey who was in a different group on the same trip.
Alternating chapters describe the events during the hike and the search. Jill is in her fiftes and out of her element, but remains the boss of the group. Alice is an aggressive corporate climber in her forties, selfish and cruel, especially to Lauren Shaw who was her classmate in school. Lauren is more tentative and self-conscious and often the perfect prey for Alice. Bree and Bethany are twenty-something twins, though very different in appearance and attitude. Their twin relationship has been fractured and this dynamic plays nicely into the plot. I especially enjoyed seeing how the five women interact when things go bad and they have to make decisions and ration food and water.
There are several subplots that figure in well with the story. Falk is still coming to terms with his father’s death, though it’s been seven years, and the search at Mirror Falls brings back memories of the hikes he refused to go on with his dad. We see into Jill’s conscience and learn of her reluctance to get into the family business. Alice and Lauren’s history involves some cruel hazing and now their daughters are vulnerable teenagers. In addition, tension between Bree and Bethany affects several events on the excursion. Will the sisters reunite or turn against each other instead?
A few red herrings point the reader the other way while the plot continues to develop. They all lead to a big scene full of raw feelings and shocking reactions.
I enjoyed reading Force of Nature. It’s a fast read with interesting characters. Harper uses one of my favorite story-telling elements by including nature’s power to drive the characters and plot. I also like how she draws parallels between seemingly different characters and their situations. And the whole story revolves around parent/child relationships over two generations, always a relevant theme and one I like to read about.
I recommend Force of Nature to readers who like mysteries and suspense set in dangerous and intimidating surroundings. Force of Nature is the second book the Aaron Falk series, after The Dry (read my review here), but it can be read as a standalone.
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