Force of Nature by Jane Harper Little, Brown, £12.99, 380 pages  Harper’s debut The Dry accumulated both considerable praise and a CWA Dagger. Now we have the antipodean novelist’s second book, always a daunting prospect for a writer — and readers may harbour both anticipation and trepidation. Force of Nature is a very different kettle of fish from its predecessor, although once again we are in a life-threatening environment. Five women on a team-building exercise take a gruelling backpack hike across Australia’s Giralang Ranges — but only four return. The missing woman, Alice Russell, is of keen interest to Federal Agent Aaron Falk as she is the whistle-blower in the case he is working on. Unsurprisingly, the powerful sense of place of the first book is once again evident with a landscape wracked by appalling weather and natural dangers proving a testing ground for her conflicted characters. In the sub-genre of inexplicable disappearances in Australia (e.g. Picnic at Hanging Rock), this is a distinguished entry.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan Simon & Schuster, 392 pages, £12.99  Kate is a barrister, prosecuting a public figure accused of the rape of his mistress, who is also his aide. James Whitehouse’s wife, Sophie, is keen to shield her family from what she sees as the lies that threaten to destroy him. Kate, however, is determined to expose a man she sees as corrupt. While Kate is very much the key character in Sarah Vaughan’s impressive Anatomy of a Scandal, the three main protagonists are all expressively drawn. The novel makes some provocative points (‘Juries are keen to convict the predatory rapist,’ Kate observes, ‘the archetypal bogeyman down a dark alley, yet when it comes to relationship rape, they’d really rather not know’), and no doubt in the current #MeToo climate — in which men in positions of power are brought down by accusations of sexual abuse — there will be a slew of books in which the subject is central. Few, however, are likely to have the rigour and intelligence of Vaughan’s novel.

 

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