“Life out here is hard. We all try to get through the best way we can. But trust me, there’s not a single person here who isn’t lying to themselves about something.”
Secrets. Lies. Deceits. The stuff of a good mystery. Put all of this in the harsh Australian outback and it gets even better.
“The Lost Man,” by Jane Harper, opens with Nathan and Bub Bright standing in the middle of nowhere with their brother Cam lying dead at their feet, next to the legendary Stockmans Grave. Nathan and Bub can’t understand what brought their brother to this remote place. Unless someone was bent on suicide, there is no reason to strand yourself in the killer Australian sun with no vehicle in sight. And there were no indications that Cam was depressed. So what happened to him?
The Brights are a family of ranchers. The recently deceased Cam was the local good guy. He took their father’s ranch and made it highly successful. He married a great woman and has two adorable children. He also gained notoriety with a painting of the Hangman’s Headstone, the place where he died. The picture hangs in the living room of the ranch house and is the family’s Holy Grail. But there are secrets to Cam, secrets that come out one at a time. Yet the overall mystery of why he would leave his fully stocked truck and wonder in the desert, remain even after suspicions of his character are confirmed.
Nathan Bright is NOT a local good guy. An incident ten years earlier forced him to isolate himself from everyone. Divorced and living three hours away from Cam’s ranch, Nathan is the Bright brother most people could imagine stranding himself in the middle of the outback. Nathan is moody and antisocial but also caring and good. He’s the perfect anti-hero.
Rounding out the Bright family is younger brother Bub who works on Cam’s ranch. Bub would rather not be a ranch hand but Cam convinced him to stay. There is Ilse, Cam’s wife. Her first introduction to the family was Nathan. But Nathan disappeared from town and Cam swooped in and ended up marrying her. Harry has been with the family since their father Carl’s days. Liz is matriarch of the Bright family, Xander is Nathan’s son and with him on holiday and lastly, two “backpackers” who Cam hired to help around the house.
The story of the Brights unfolds as they prepare for Cam’s funeral. Nathan and Xander search for clues while Bub drowns his thoughts in beer. The backpackers act suspicious, Ilse tries to hold it together for her kids and Liz grieves. Being back around family forces Nathan to confront some of their shared past and it’s as unforgiving as the Australian landscape. When the truth is finally revealed, it’s up to Nathan to decide what to do.
“The Lost Man” would make an excellent movie if only because the landscape is just as big a part of the story as the murder. Harper’s descriptions were so vivid I could taste the dust in my mouth and feel the sun on my skin. The story was a slow build but it didn’t move at a slow pace – I didn’t want to put the book down. I was rooting as Nathan slowly started to abandon his loneliness in order to discover what happened to his brother Cam. As more and more anomalies pile up a forgotten person from the past appears. Pieces start to fall into place and then the end rushes at you like the invisible floods on the Outback providing a satisfying conclusion.
So if you’re looking for a quick and fun summer read, pick up “The Lost Man.” Just make sure to read it in the shade with a cool glass of water by your side!
Lynn Alexander is a recently published author and long-time book, food, cat and college football lover (Go Green!). Her career journey started in upstate New York, writing and recording commercials for radio. She moved to Venice, Florida to manage a restaurant which led her to Naples and Marco in 2002, where she currently books weddings and events for a local resort. Alexander is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum which fed her passion for history and learning. A butterfly at parties but a loner at heart, she loves nothing more than baking yummy desserts then retreating to a quiet corner to read.