Sunday, September 29, 2019

Review: The Lost Man

I enjoy Australian literature, which features a language and culture familiar enough to make it comfortable, but with enough difference to make it "other" and slightly exotic. 

To be fair, my exposure to Australian culture is rather limited to pop fiction (think Liane Moriarty, Geraldine Brooks, and Colleen McCollough) and, I am realizing, very white. If anyone has suggestions  for a more diverse Australian reading list, I'd be much obliged.

Now, on to The Lost Man and all of the bleached Australian whiteness as the Outback can provide.


First of all, Jane Harper offers for our consideration a Caucasian Australian culture that sports a very casual relationship with skin cancer. Everyone has it, or has some cut out, or is intimately inspected by a health care professional on a regular basis. I don't have an outdoor-enough lifestyle to have that kind of relationship with a dermatologist or oncologist, but I suspect I would be if I was an Aussie. The intensity of the Aussie sun is as intense as the close-knit community in this book.

Australians also seem to have a strained relationship with women and women’s personal safety. Cam was the "nice" brother, Bub was immature and self-absorbed, Nathan the most troubled — and yet their relationships with women were very different than their community assigned them. Cam's sexual abuse of ranch-hands was overlooked (probably as much out of fear as acceptance of the behavior), but Nathan's momentary disregard of his former father-in-law's safety was so severely punished, it seemed to make up for Cam’s physical and sexual abuse of the women around him.


The “mystery” of the story was teased out a little too long. Nathan kept “almost remembering” clues and actions beyond my patience. The question of Cam’s boyhood attack on the ranch hand was teased out a little too long. The final reveal of whodunit — and the clue that led to the revelation — was a bit of a surprise, but only because that relationship hadn’t been examined much in the book.

I liked the characters, but I wasn’t really invested in them. I didn’t necessarily see them as full-fledged people, so the abuse was painful, but I didn’t feel indignation on behalf of the characters who suffered at the hands of Cam and his father.

The world of the stark, blistering Australian Outback felt very alien to me, and I kept thinking about Mars the entire time I read the book.

This was my first Harper novel. I like her storytelling style: enough detail to get the point across, but otherwise spare and lean — bordering on emaciated. To be fair, I was reading a non-fiction book on domestic abuse at the same time I read The Lost Man. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy a good thriller, I'm not sure I want to keep reading about dead women and children. The plethora of dead and abused women was the very reason I stopped watching police procedurals on television.

To Harper's credit, her details were not lurid and voyeuristic — at least, in this book. Are her other books as spare and respectful? I'd love to hear your comments: post them below, or feel free to email me

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