I’ve read all of Jane Harper’s novels. It was possibly her first book, The Dry, that triggered a popular interest in Aussie Noir, giving Scandi Noir a run for its money. For me, it was Jane Harper that got me reading Australian mysteries and I imagine it was the same for many readers. There’s just something special about novels set in the outback.
Since The Dry we’ve had a second Aaron Falk novel – Force of Nature is soon to hit the big screen – and now, a long-awaited third. Exiles sees the Melbourne detective visiting friends in rural wine country for a christening. It’s a bitter-sweet time for Greg Raco’s family. While Aaron is going to be godfather to Raco’s baby boy, nobody can forget what happened at the same time a year ago. The Marralee Valley Annual Food and Wine Festival was on and it was here that Kim Gillespie disappeared, leaving her baby Zoe asleep in her pram.
Kim’s older daughter from her long-term relationship with Charlie Raco, Greg Raco’s winemaker brother, is desperate for answers. Now seventeen, she’s running a campaign, aided by Charlie and her good friend Joel, handing out flyers and canvassing potential eyewitnesses. Aaron, with all his detective smarts, somehow gets roped in.
And there’s another cold case – the hit-and-run death of Joel’s father at the Reservoir, a spot adjacent to the festival grounds, and it’s the Reservoir where Kim’s shoe was found. Is this a coincidence or are the two cases linked? Aaron has the added complication of meeting up with Gemma again, Joel’s mother – someone he’d met through Raco, and who he can’t quite forget.
Even in the gloom Falk could see it stretching out, vast and open in its centre, then twisting and curving to fill the turns and gullies that formed the banks. It was big. Bigger than he remembered. The opposite bank was just visible across the swathe of water, but he couldn’t see the westernmost edge, or the dam that lay somewhere to the east. The festival grounds felt far behind them, but Falk could hear a distant low thrum of music and crowd noise undercutting the stillness.
Emotions are high in this story with two teenagers having lost parents and not having any answers. Aaron’s a bit of a softy and is sympathetic. The story also hearkens back to the events from the school days of Kim and the Racos. Like the current batch of kids from the local high school, the opening night of the wine and food festival was when there was a big party in the woods near the Reservoir, something local cop, Sergeant Dwyer would love to shut down.
There’s a lot going on in each of the characters’ lives, and we slowly get a picture of a community, of complicated loyalties among old friends, old grudges and a fair bit more besides. We haven’t got a dry, scarily hot landscape. But the stunning countryside surrounding the grim spectre of the Reservoir and all its secrets makes for another atmospheric setting.
Add some superb writing, and a twist in the story I didn’t see coming and I’m happy to say that Jane Harper has done it again. Exiles is another cracking read and is satisfying on several levels. I’ve also got a feeling we might see Aaron Falk again – I hope so; he’s a complex and interesting detective. Exiles gets four and a half out of five from me.