‘Force of Nature’ is compelling novel by Jane Harper

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A team-building expedition into Australia’s bush land quickly evolves into a taut plot about survival — both in business and in personal life — as well as corporate intrigue, jealousy and family issues in Jane Harper’s compelling novel “Force of Nature.”

Executives and assistants of Melbourne accounting firm BaileyTennants go on a three-night retreat to the rugged Giralang Ranges.  The men’s team returns ahead of schedule, but a search party has to be dispatched when the women’s team is six hours late.  When the women do return, each one is injured.  And one woman, Alice Russell, is missing.

Federal agents Aaron Falk and Carmen Cooper are sent to investigate Alice’s disappearance and assist the search team.  Aaron and Carmen have a stake in finding Alice.  She’s key in uncovering an elaborate money-laundering scheme that began with the founder of the firm and has been continued by his children, brother and sister Daniel and Jill Bailey who are now BaileyTennants executives and are on the retreat.

The agents soon learn that Alice wasn’t just an inside source for them, she was one of the firm’s most disliked members.  Alice was cruel and insensitive to others, from the assistant she bullied to a long-time acquaintance who was more enemy than friend.  Lost in the bush land with food and water dwindling, every personal and professional slight is magnified.  Adding to the tension, this part of the wild was once the killing ground for a serial murderer whose son is rumored to share his father’s proclivities.

Harper continues the intense plotting and detail for characters and setting that she established in “The Dry,” which introduced Aaron.  While “Force of Nature” depends heavily on police procedures, Harper keeps the focus more on her characters’ motivations, skillfully alternating between the search and what happened on each day of the retreat. (AP)