Nathan Bright's status as a hermit abruptly changes when he meets his youngest brother Bub at a fence line separating their cattle ranches in the vast Australian outback. They have just found the third Bright brother, Cameron, dead at the base of the legendary "Stockman's Grave."
Cameron died of exposure and dehydration in the deadly heat of an Australian summer, but why? His vehicle was found-- fully operational and stocked with water and other supplies-- not all that far away. As his family gathers at the ranch for Cameron's funeral-- and for Christmas-- Nathan has suspicions that just will not go away. He begins examining secrets that the family would rather leave in the past, little knowing what he will uncover.
As good as Harper's two Aaron Falk mysteries are-- and they are-- The Lost Man blew me away. There are two main characters in this book: Nathan Bright and the Australian outback, and I don't know which one I enjoyed more. I felt the grit of the red dust between my teeth and the sun leeching all the moisture from my body as I read. Distances are almost at the edge of incredulity in this place. The nearest large city is over 900 miles away. The two brothers, Nathan and Cameron, have adjoining cattle ranches, and it's a three-hour drive between their houses. Schooling is done online via a slow internet connection. Every white person has skin cancer to some degree. Detail by detail woven seamlessly into the narrative, the outback looms large.
But so does Nathan Bright because we see the story through his eyes. Nathan lives "beyond the Pale," having committed an error for which no one living in that harsh environment will forgive him. Divorced, the one good thing in his life is his son, Xander, who lives in Brisbane with his mother. When something doesn't make sense to Nathan, he can't leave it alone. And his brother, dying of exposure when his truck was in perfect working order and filled with water and food, well-- that just doesn't make sense.
We get to know the other members of the Bright family as Nathan works to answer his questions, and we learn that they are all damaged in some way. The power of Harper's storytelling meant that I was pulled along like a leaf caught in the current of a river, enjoying the words and the spell they wove too much to try to do any detective work of my own. Love and hate predominate not only the outback itself but the relationships between the members of this family. A nanosecond before the reveal occurred, everything fell into place for me: each character's behavior, the tiniest of clues planted throughout the narrative, and I was left a bit stunned. And I was also left wondering, out of all the men in this book, which one was truly The Lost Man? It's a question I'm still pondering.
This is powerful storytelling that should not be missed.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper
Flatiron Books © 2019
eBook, 345 pages