Jane Harper has already established a solid reputation as an author who successfully weaves a story where the setting is as important a character as the people. The Lost Man continues that tradition. Nathan Bright is called out to meet his youngest brother Bub at the historic “Old Stockman’s Grave” where his middle brother Cam was found dead of dehydration nine kilometers from his vehicle in the harsh, unforgiving, overheated Australian outback. There is no evidence of foul play and everyone seems to assume he committed suicide, but Nathan just can’t accept that.
It is right before Christmas, the hottest time of the year, and things just don’t seem right even though it’s been far too long since he has visited the home farm. Nathan is an outcast in the community thanks to a poor decision he immediately regretted more than ten years ago, but memories last a long time where there are so few people. Nathan and his son Xander stay through the funeral and Christmas and Nathan keeps finding more reasons to question what happened and his own memories of his brother.
I have to say up front, I am a fan of Jane Harper. This is the third book I have read and now I know that if her name is on a book, it will be one with a strong sense of place with characters whose actions flow organically from the natural environment and human nature. Her books take place in places where humanity must adapt to nature and where they are constantly aware of the environment is more powerful than they are. They know fires can overwhelm, that people can be hopelessly lost in forests, and die of heat and dehydration in very little time if they forget for a moment where they are. I love stories of people finding a way to survive in places that are not made for most of us.
The story is fair. We slowly come to suspect that perhaps Cam’s death is a blessing and well-deserved. Could he have recognized what he was doing and killed himself in remorse or perhaps his behavior brought about his murder? In the end, though, you can’t help feeling that in a less isolated, less inhospitable place, life would have been very different for everyone.