The BookBrowse Review

Published January 22, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The Lost Man
The Lost Man
by Jane Harper

Paperback (31 Dec 2019), 368 pages.
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN-13: 9781250105707
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Two brothers meet in the remote Australian outback when the third brother is found dead, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper.

Brothers Nathan and Bub Bright meet for the first time in months at the remote fence line separating their cattle ranches in the lonely outback.

Their third brother, Cameron, lies dead at their feet.

In an isolated belt of Australia, their homes a three-hour drive apart, the brothers were one another's nearest neighbors. Cameron was the middle child, the one who ran the family homestead. But something made him head out alone under the unrelenting sun.

Nathan, Bub and Nathan's son return to Cameron's ranch and to those left behind by his passing: his wife, his daughters, and his mother, as well as their long-time employee and two recently hired seasonal workers.

While they grieve Cameron's loss, suspicion starts to take hold, and Nathan is forced to examine secrets the family would rather leave in the past. Because if someone forced Cameron to his death, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects.

A powerful and brutal story of suspense set against a formidable landscape, The Lost Man confirms Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature, is one of the best new voices in writing today.

1

Nathan Bright could see nothing, and then everything all at once.

He had crested the rise, gripping the steering wheel as the off-road terrain tried to snatch control from his hands, and suddenly it was all there in front of him. Visible, but still miles away, giving him too many minutes to absorb the scene as it loomed larger. He glanced over at the passenger seat.

"Don't look," he was tempted to say, but didn't bother. There was no point. The sight dragged the gaze.

Still, he stopped the car farther from the fence than he needed to. He pulled on the handbrake, leaving the engine and the air conditioner running. Both protested the Queensland December heat with discordant squeals.

"Stay in the car," he said.

"But—"

Nathan slammed the door before he heard the rest. He walked to the fence line, pulled the top wires apart, and climbed through from his side to his brothers'.

A four-wheel drive was parked near the stockman's grave, its own engine still running and its air conditioner also spinning full pelt, no doubt. Nathan cleared the fence as the driver's door opened and his youngest brother stepped out.

"G'day," Bub called, when Nathan was close enough to hear.

"G'day."

They met by the headstone. Nathan knew he would have to look down at some point. He delayed the moment by opening his mouth.

"When did you—" He heard movement behind him and pointed. "Oi! Stay in the bloody car!" He had to shout to cover the distance, and it came out more harshly than he'd intended. He tried again. "Stay in the car."

Not much better, but at least his son listened.

"I forgot you had Xander with you," Bub said.

"Yeah." Nathan waited until the car door clicked shut. He could see Xander's outline through the windshield, at sixteen more man than boy these days. He turned back to his brother. The one standing in front of him, at least. Their third sibling, middle-born Cameron Bright, lay at their feet at the base of the headstone. He had been covered, thank God, by a faded tarp.

Nathan tried again. "How long have you been here?"

Bub thought for a moment, the way he often did before answering. His eyes were slightly hooded under the brim of his hat, and his words fell a fraction of a beat slower than average speaking pace. "Since last night, just before dark."

"Uncle Harry's not coming?"

Another beat, then a shake of the head.

"Where is he? Back home with Mum?"

"And Ilse and the girls," Bub said. "He offered, but I said you were on your way."

"Probably better someone's with Mum. You have any trouble?" Nathan finally looked at the bundle at his feet. Something like that would draw out the scavengers.

"You mean dingoes?"

"Yeah, mate." Of course. What else? There wasn't a huge amount of choice out there.

"Had to take a couple of shots." Bub scratched his collarbone, and Nathan could see the edge of the western star of his Southern Cross tattoo. "But it was okay."

"Good. All right." Nathan recognized the familiar frustration that came with talking to Bub. He wished Cameron were there to smooth the waters, and felt a sudden sharp jab of realization under his ribs. He made himself take a deep breath, the air hot in his throat and lungs. This was difficult for everyone.

Bub's eyes were red, and his face unshaven and heavy with shock, as was Nathan's own, he imagined. They looked a bit, but not a lot, alike. The sibling relationship was clearer with Cameron in the middle, bridging the gap in more ways than one. Bub looked tired and, as always these days, older than Nathan remembered. With twelve years between them, Nathan still found himself faintly surprised to see his brother edging into his thirties, rather than still in nappies.

Nathan crouched beside the tarp. It was weather-bleached and had been tucked tight in places, like a bedsheet.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from The Lost Man by Jane Harper. Copyright © 2019 by Jane Harper. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Welcome to the Reading Group Guide for The Lost Man. Please note: In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this novel—as well as the ending. If you have not finished reading The Lost Man, we respectfully suggest that you consider waiting before reviewing this guide.

  1. Carl Bright is shown through the novel to have been an aggressive and violent man, but his abuse was not always of a physical nature. What does the novel have to say about the power wielded by a perpetrator of domestic violence, and the long-lasting effects of that abuse?
  2. How does the secretive nature of domestic violence protect the perpetrator? How do the ideas of fear and shame hinder victims from seeking help? Are there any other reasons the Brights might not have sought help for their situation?
  3. Sheer distance and isolation impacts the way crimes are responded to and investigated in the outback. What effect did the lack of police and medical support have on the outcomes for the rape of Jenna Moore, and the death of Cameron Bright?
  4. Nathan is excommunicated from the local township when he doesn't stop to help Keith Walker on a remote outback road. What does this have to say about the nature of small, isolated communities? What are the advantages and disadvantages of communities such as these, do you think?
  5. Nathan, Cameron and Bub all suffered from their father's domestic violence against them and their mother through their childhood, but they have dealt with that abuse in very different ways as adults. What effect has that abuse had on each of the brothers? What are some of their different coping mechanisms? Which of them do you think has been the most successful at dealing with this traumatic childhood, and why?
  6. For those who have also read Jane Harper's The Dry, an interesting link is made between Liz Bright and her abusive brother, Malcolm Deacon. What could you infer from this connection?
  7. How has Nathan's upbringing affected his approach to parenthood? How do the events of the novel influence his attitude towards how he interacts with Xander and Jacqui in the future?
  8. Nathan must confront many of his demons over the course of this novel. What is it that allows him to make such progress, do you think?
  9. Nathan's impression of Cameron changes as he gets closer to the truth about Cameron's death. How and why does it change?
  10. In spite of the family's persistently low expectations of Bub, it is Bub who is the most perceptive about Cameron here. In what other ways is Bub underestimated in the novel? How do you think the insistence of the other characters to refer to him by his childhood nickname might have affected him as he grew up?
  11. Over the course of the novel, Cameron Bright is revealed to us as someone who had both good and not so good qualities, which he hides well. What were some of the ways Cameron manipulated the people around him? Why and how did he get away with it?
  12. In spite of the influence Cameron had on those around him, all the other characters in the novel benefit in some way from his death. In what ways are they now better off? Do you think this justifies Cameron's death in any way?
  13. Nathan tells us that Cameron was Carl's favored son. What effect might this favoritism have had on Cameron, and his two brothers?
  14. Did you suspect at any point that Liz might have been in involved in Cameron's death? Why or why not, do you think? With the benefit of hindsight, what signs were there that might have thrown suspicion on Liz, or, in contrast, diverted attention away from her?
  15. What do you think about what Liz did, both to Carl and to Cameron? Do you think that her actions were justified? Do you think Nathan is doing the right thing when he decides to keep her secret?
  16. The remote Queensland outback and its fictional town of Balamara is the central setting of the novel. How does this remote, isolated setting inform our ideas about the people who live there and the events that take place there? How does the setting itself impact the events of the novel?
  17. The stockman's grave is the scene of several major events in this book. It is the location of Cameron's death, it is the focal point of Ilse's escape plan, and it is the source of Cameron's prize-winning painting. In what ways does the idea of this lonely grave permeate the novel? What does it have to say about outback life, both now and in the past?
  18. Jane Harper has chosen to tell this story in the third person past tense, entirely (with the exception of the prologue) from Nathan Bright's point of view. What is the effect of this?
  19. The novel begins with a prologue from an omniscient viewpoint that describes the bleak setting of Cameron Bright's death. Why do you think the author chose to introduce the events of the novel in this way?
  20. Throughout the novel, several characters tell different versions of the story of the stockman buried in the stockman's grave. It is Nathan who tells the true story at the novel's conclusion. What might this tell us about the nature of stories, and the nature of truth? Can you draw any parallels between this and any other stories told in this novel?

 

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Flatiron Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Two estranged brothers come together to investigate the death of a third brother on an Australian cattle ranch in this slow burn thriller from Jane Harper.

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36 out of 37 First Impression reviewers gave Jane Harper's third novel, The Last Man, either four or five stars, for an overall rating of 4.7.

What it's about:
Jane Harper's latest book, The Lost Man, is a fantastic family drama/mystery that explores the consequences of both taking action and failing to do so. In the aftermath of the seeming suicide of Cameron Bright in a desolate part of the Australian Outback, his family must come to terms with his death and with what may have prompted it. Told from the point of view of Nathan, Cameron's older brother, the story slowly unfolds as Harper interweaves past and present and reveals dark family secrets (Terri O). Nathan and Cameron trade places as protagonist and antagonist throughout the book, posing the question: Which of the brothers was really lost? (Joan B).

At the core of the novel is the question of how a person's family history may affect their actions later in life:
The plot delves into how our childhoods define our family situations in the present (Mary O). The generational effects of living in a dysfunctional family and other events of the past influence how each character reacts to Cameron's death (Shirley T). I was reminded that we all carry our pasts with us, and that some are more successful in moving forward than others (Gina T).

Many reviewers mentioned Harper's writing skill:
The author has a talent for describing people and locations in such a way that one gets inside the heads of her flawed, and so very human characters (Sue P). They're very well developed, as is the plot. The sense of place is palpable, and the resolution, when it finally comes, is satisfying and believable (Terri O). Harper really deserves credit for building suspense. Atmospheric, anxious, ghostly, foreboding and fulfilling…this story checks a lot of boxes (Linda H).

The Lost Man compared favorably to Harper's previous books:
I thought The Lost Man was a wonderful book and enjoyed it even more than Jane Harper's previous novels featuring Aaron Falk (Randi H). Although I was not a big fan of The Dry, I chose this based on the fact that it was a standalone and had some great advance buzz. To my mind, this book is MUCH better than her debut novel, with a greater emphasis on the characters, and less on the detective work (Jill S). Harper is a great storyteller, and I enjoyed her other two books, but somehow this one resonated more with me (Linda S). This was very different from Harper's first book, which I realized received rave reviews despite my less than enthusiastic opinion of it. This book on the other hand was terrific (Barry E).

As with Harper's previous works, the action is set in the Australian Outback:
Harper's images of the dry, vast Outback will leave you thirsty! (Diane D). She does an amazing job of describing the rugged—almost alien—terrain, as well as its impact on the people who live there (Deborah C). The lonely, desolate landscape mirrors the characters' lives and actions perfectly (Nikki M). The Australian Outback becomes a character itself; the descriptions of the environment bring an extra layer of bleakness and urgency to the story that keeps the pages turning faster and faster (Betsy H).

A few of our readers found the pacing problematic:
I thought this was a rather slow-moving mystery. I got impatient with trying to figure out what the crime was really about (Sara P). I felt like I was slogging through the mud for the first 50 pages (Richard N).

Most, however, thought it was a fast read:
Like Harper's first two books, The Lost Man seizes the reader's interest and doesn't let up until the final page (Sheryl M). I read this in one sitting, forgoing dinner and sleep to find out what secrets were hidden in this family (Elizabeth S). A page-turner that I did not want to put down! (Mary O). I think this book will end up being one of my year's favorites (Frances N).

The Lost Man is recommended by our First Impressions Reviewers to a wide audience:
Strong characters, riveting plot and an honest look at life in the Australian Outback make it easy to give this book a 5-star endorsement (Norman G). I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a suspenseful tale, well-told (Linda S). I thoroughly enjoyed it and would suggest it to anyone who enjoys layered family dramas and slow-burning mysteries (Terri O). It would be a great basis for a stimulating book club discussion (Joan B). I thoroughly enjoyed it and cannot wait to see what she does next! (Meara C).

Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

New York Times
Harper's books succeed in part because she conveys how even now, geography can be fate. Heat and empty space in her work defeat modernity, defeat logic, technology and even love, throwing us back upon our irreducible selves. By the time she reveals the (brilliantly awful) back story about Nathan's banishment from the few human comforts of Balamara—the pub, for example—the reader feels frantic for their restoration. The final pages of The Lost Man are somewhat predictable, but Harper is skillful enough, a prickly, smart, effective storyteller, that it doesn't matter. She's often cynical, but always humane. Book by book, she's creating her own vivid and complex account of the outback, and its people who live where people don't live.

People
[A] crime masterpiece. The landscape and culture of this remote Australian territory are magnificently evoked as a story of family secrets unfolds. Rarely does a puzzle so complicated fit together perfectly—you’ll be shaking your head in amazement.

Publishers Weekly
Harper's sinewy prose and flinty characters compel, but the dreary story line may cause some readers to give up before the jaw-dropping denouement.

Booklist
The atmosphere is so thick you can taste the red-clay dust, and the folklore surrounding the mysterious stockman adds an additional edge to an already dark and intense narrative. The truth is revealed in a surprising ending that reveals how far someone will go to preserve a life worth living in a place at once loathed and loved.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. The mystery of Cam's death is at the dark heart of an unfolding family drama that will leave readers reeling, and the final reveal is a heartbreaker. A twisty slow burner by an author at the top of her game.

Write your own review

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by bridgnut
The Lost Man
I think the book was well written but it took me a while to finish. The descriptions of people and the area were good. But the book was not usually the kind I read.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Tired Bookreader
Just okay...
I know there is a story in this book, but you really have to have patience to find it. The storyline moves so slowly and didn't really get interesting until page 237. If the purpose of the book was to explain how exciting life could be in Australia, it failed. Still, one will cheer on the protagonist...every so slowly...

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Melissa Stone
Abuses Stronghold
Harper's stand-alone third novel is every bit as engrossing as her first two! The crime mystery is typical, but her ability to bring both characters and settings to life is anything but. I found the re occurrence of abuse throughout the novel and its stronghold until the very end most believable. Humans were designed for love and when love turns sick (aka abuse in all its forms), people turn to survival. Never underestimate a mother's strength, love, fury, or weakness.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Victoria
A Western for those who don’t read Westerns
I read this book earlier in the year when it came out in hardback. I can’t remember what caused me to be interested, but my records show I actually bought it on my Kindle. Something or someone’s review must have convinced me to try it! I really do not like Westerns and I would at least partially classify this novel as a Western novel, albeit set in Australia. The mystery of the story was great, well-plotted and intense. I couldn’t stop reading. And the descriptions of the landscape were amazing. I frequently found myself stopping to imagine the landscape and the vast distances described by comparing them to distances more familiar to me. Overall a great read and I’ll be looking for more by this author.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Mbeggs
Family secrets
The author took you to the Outback and introduced a family to the reader. Then slowly and intricately showed you their flaws and how they each handled their life situation. The suspense carried you to the end. Read with a tall glass of water. Well done!

Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Sandi W.
imagination and brilliant storytelling
How refreshing! Just a really nice novel with a general fiction story line. Set in Australia, in the very outback, with minimal characters and subtle plot surrounding a family. The novel speaks of love, relationships, heredity, loss and endurance. Of how things are handed down in a family, both by nature and by nurture, or the lack thereof. Somewhat of a mystery, somewhat of a love story, but definitely a well written novel.

Well written, as expected from Jane Harper, the author of the Aaron Falk series. Harper takes you right into the story and makes you a character, as she also does the landscape. You may not have a speaking part, but you are there nonetheless. Feeling the pain, the joy and confusion of each of her characters. She writes with a freshness that eludes a lot of authors, and a straightforwardness that gives you that immediate sense of belonging. And not surprising, is that you welcome the opportunity to be swept away in her imagination and brilliant storytelling.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Barry E. (Margate City, NJ)
Five star book
This was very different from Harper's first book which I realized received rave reviews despite my less than enthusiastic review. This book on the other hand was terrific, although I feel labeling it a mystery is not right. This in a true sense is a novel about a dysfunctional family, despite Harper's attempt to make it out to be a mystery by providing many twists and turns.

Writing again about Australia again, Harper gives us great insight to a large desolate area of the Outback region. Life was hard, the people were hard, and misery was around every corner.

Her prologue lead us on into the search for a reason why anybody would live there.

We meet the Bright family, an almost successful ranching family, and as their story unravels we cover many modern and varied issues from child abuse, spousal abuse, divorce, suicide and depression. Five stars from me, a must read.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Ann B. (Kernville, CA)
Character-driven mystery braided into Outback family saga
This crime novel set in the Australian outback has elements of a typical mystery, but it's the conventions it lacks that make it so satisfying. Our protagonist, for example, is not a PI, cop, or otherwise typical gumshoe character. Rather, he is a member of the family. While The Lost Man is a slow-burning thriller, it is also an emotion- and character-driven family saga. I will be reading Jane Harper's The Dry ASAP.

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Cattle Ranching in Australia

Jackaroos at a cattle station in Australia's Northern TerritoryJane Harper's The Lost Man takes place on a cattle station in the Australian Outback. Cattle stations function quite differently than American or European beef cattle ranches. Many are extremely large; the territory devoted to raising the livestock is generally hot and arid, producing little vegetation, and so an immense area of land is required to support relatively few head of cattle. There are over 100 cattle stations in Australia that are larger than the biggest American ranch. Because the acreage is so immense and the herd so spread out, rounding up the animals can take weeks. Ranch hands no longer exclusively ride horses to accomplish this, frequently relying on ATVs, dirt bikes, or even light aircraft to spot the cows.

Because of the stations' size and remoteness, life can be very isolated; often the next human settlement is more than a day's drive away. Some stations have consequently come to resemble small towns out of necessity, with schoolrooms for the children of the owners and workers, a general store to provide essentials, and sometimes an entertainment center or bar. Since 1951, many children living in remote areas of the Outback have received their school lessons via Australia's School of the Air program, which originally delivered lessons by two-way radio, and now via the internet using satellite connections. Electricity is provided by solar cells or via a generator, and internet and television accessed by satellite. The stations frequently have a dirt airstrip as well, so that small planes can land to deliver mail and supplies.

Employment on a cattle station is considered one of the world's toughest jobs; everyone works from sunrise to sunset, often seven days a week. It's also Australia's most dangerous profession, producing more deaths and injuries per year than any other job. A hand, sometimes called a "jackaroo" or "jillaroo," may perform domestic chores like cooking and cleaning, or tougher outdoor work, such as mustering cattle or fixing fences. The stations of Australia's Northern Territory alone employ about 1,800 individuals.

During the dry season, the time of year when cattle are typically rounded up, nearly all hands are required to venture into the Outback, sleeping outdoors on the ground for weeks at a time. In addition to simply gathering the herd together, the cattle need to be branded, checked over by a vet in some cases, and the animals going to the slaughter must be separated from the rest.

It is quite common for backpackers and others seeking an extended stay in Australia to pursue a holiday work visa, and many of the less skilled positions (cooks, cleaners, maintenance workers, etc.) on a cattle station are filled by these temporary workers. If you are between 18-30 years old and a citizen of one of about fifty countries that have a reciprocal agreement with Australia (including the U.K., U.S., and Canada), you can apply for a holiday work visa for $440 AUD, and if accepted, you will be granted 12 months of residency in Australia (some other restrictions apply). Visit the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs for more information and to fill out an application.

by Kim Kovacs

Northern Territory cattle station, courtesy of NT Travel

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