Library notes: Mystery series is hard to put down
LIBRARY NOTES

Library notes: Mystery series is hard to put down

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If you are a fan of well-written, well-researched mystery novels that have a strong sense of place and keep the reader guessing, I have the writer for you: Jane Harper.

Harper has written three page-turning mysteries set in different areas of rural Australia.

Harper’s skill as a writer shines through in the meticulous plotting of these whodunits, with red herrings judiciously placed, and characters’ true natures slowly revealed.

Rural Australia itself is a major character in all three of her books, its harsh climate depicted as either part of the cause or the motive for the crimes that occur.

Harper’s debut novel, "The Dry," introduces federal police officer Aaron Falk, who reluctantly returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of a childhood friend who has appears to have committed suicide after killing his wife and son.

Falk is pulled into the investigation of the deaths despite being run out of town 20 years earlier.

As Falk works the investigation and faces the demons of his past, the story is interspersed with important flashbacks.

Characters and plot are revealed slowly in both the present and the past. The extreme drought this community is facing and the financial and mental damage it inflicts is a driving element throughout. The significance of the book’s title becomes clear as it reaches its exciting conclusion.

Although Harper’s second book, "Force of Nature," also features Agent Aaron Falk, it’s a very loose sequel that doesn’t require knowledge of the first book to be enjoyed.

This is the story of a corporate retreat gone wrong. Five women go into the Australian bush for a team-building exercise, and only four come out. The missing woman is a key witness in one of Falk’s financial crime cases, so he and his partner are brought in to the investigation. The story alternates between the search and rescue attempt in the present day, and snippets from the recent past that show what really happened during the ill-fated retreat. Once again, rural Australia itself takes center stage - this time in the form of a dense, cold, and rainy forest in the Australian bushland that’s pitted against inexperienced campers. Red herrings abound in this well-plotted tale, making it difficult to guess how the mystery will be resolved.

While it’s hard for me to pick a favorite of the three, Jane Harper’s latest book, "The Lost Man," may be it. I consumed it during the course of one day, and even though the mystery was solved, I was sad to see it end.

This is not an Aaron Falk novel, but instead a great standalone. This story is set in the vast, dusty, cattle ranchlands of Queensland, where neighbors are few and far between and the heat can be relentless. The central mystery of the story is why was the body of Cameron Bright, an experienced rancher well aware of the dangers of his environment, found miles from his abandoned vehicle. Bright family secrets are revealed and questions about sibling rivalry and family violence are considered in this deftly written mystery.

You can search for books that will take you to Australia and all corners of the world, as well as learn about the many library programs and services we provide at the La Crosse County Library at our website: www.lacrossecountylibrary.org.

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