Australia’s outback, with its brutal climate and equally bruising isolation, looms as large as any character in this stark standalone from bestseller Harper (Force of Nature). For years, the three Bright brothers—divorced dad Nathan, the eldest; family man and everybody’s favorite, middle child Cameron; and the mentally challenged youngest, Bub—have maintained an uneasy equilibrium on adjacent cattle ranches. That flies out the window the week before Christmas when Cameron goes missing; his desiccated corpse is subsequently discovered a few miles from his perfectly operational truck in the shadow of the eerie headstone known as the stockman’s grave. Absent any clear indications of foul play, the local authorities undertake a perfunctory investigation, leaving a troubled Nathan to start asking questions that no one wants to answer. In the grim journey that follows, the surviving members of the Bright family must confront some devastating secrets. 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. Author tour. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Feb.)
Cameron Bright's body is found in a remote part of his family's cattle ranch in western Australia; his car, which was stocked with supplies and in perfect working order, is parked nine kilometers away. With no sign of foul play, the police conclude that he simply chose to walk into the desert to his death. Cam's brother Nathan isn't so sure. Cam had a thriving business, employees who respected him, a wonderful family, and seemingly everything to live for. But if it wasn't suicide, what happened? The difficulties of being three hours from the nearest town are exacerbated for Nathan, who lives alone on the neighboring ranch, sometimes going without human contact for weeks at a time. The reasons for Nathan's isolation are revealed gradually and enhance readers' understanding of both the community and the individual. As with Harper's previous books (The Dry; Force of Nature), the Australian landscape looms large, and it's difficult to imagine the events in this novel playing out the same way anywhere else. VERDICT Even if readers guess why Cam died, they're likely to be kept guessing the how and the who until the end. Recommended for fans of the author and of mysteries set in rural communities. [See Prepub Alert, 8/13/18.]—Stephanie Klose, Library Journal
A timely novel set in the furthest reaches of Australia by the author of The Dry (2017) and Force of Nature (2018).
The three Bright brothers are the overseers of 3,500 square kilometers of land in Queensland, with hours between each of their homes. It's a vast, unforgiving environment, and no one ever goes far without a full complement of supplies. When 40-year-old Cameron sets out on his own, ostensibly to fix a repeater mast, he never comes home. His body is eventually spotted, via helicopter, curled up by the stockman's grave, the source of plentiful, and persistent, local ghost stories. Cam's older brother, Nathan, and their baby brother, Bub, are as perplexed as the cop who's come all the way from Brisbane to investigate. What was Cam doing by the grave, and what was his Land Cruiser doing nine kilometers away, still fully stocked with supplies, with the keys left neatly on the front seat? The Brights' mother, Liz, is devastated, and Cam has also left behind his wife, Ilse, and two young daughters, Sophie and Lo. They're pragmatic folks, though, and there's a funeral to be planned, plus Christmas is just around the corner. Everyone seems to assume that Cam took his own life, but Nathan isn't so sure, and there's a strange dynamic in Cam's home that he can't put his finger on. Cam had been acting strangely in the weeks before his death, too. But Nathan's got his own problems. He's eager to reconnect with his teenage son, Xander, who's visiting from Brisbane, and he has a complicated history with Ilse. In the days leading up to the funeral, family secrets begin to surface, and Nathan realizes he never really knew his brother at all. Harper's masterful narrative places readers right in the middle of a desolate landscape that's almost as alien as the moon's surface, where the effects of long-term isolation are always a concern. 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.