Jane Harper's The Lost Man (The Dry, Force of Nature), her third novel and first standalone, opens with a mesmerizing description of a lone headstone marking the grave of a stockman in Australia's desolate outback. A bit of history is provided about the person supposedly buried there, before Harper moves in for a closer look that puts a chill in the desert heat: there are fresh scrapes in the dust surrounding the headstone.
They were made by Cameron Bright, a local resident whose body has just been found there. It's clear from the marks the man did not die peacefully, having dragged himself around the headstone, chasing the tiny shade it provides from the punishing sun. "The circle in the dust fell just short of one full revolution. Just short of twenty-four hours."
Cam is the middle of three brothers; Nathan, the eldest, narrates Lost Man as he looks into his brother's death. How did Cam get to the grave? Why was his car, fully functioning and stocked with supplies including food and water, parked nine kilometers away? Nathan's investigation unearths not only clues to Cam's death; it brings up family secrets and long-held pain from Nathan's own isolation. Through it all, the stark landscape is a force to be reckoned with. When Nathan's mom asks if he believes the area is haunted by lost children crying for their mothers, he answers no because "if that were true, the outback air would howl so loud the dust would never settle." Lost Man is quietly unsettling, in a hypnotic and heartbreaking way. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd