Reviewed by Rod McLary
Where does one start with a review of a Jane Harper book? Each of her previous novels has been hugely successful – both critically and commercially. Each has been plotted meticulously and suspensefully with engaging characters [largely] and denouements which often catch the reader unawares. Jane Harper’s latest novel Exiles is no different.
Aaron Falk – a financial investigator with the Australian Federal Police – is again invited to the christening of Henry, the thirteen-month-old son of his friends Ben and Rita Raco, in the small country town of Marralee. The christening was to have taken place twelve months previously but with the disappearance of Kim Gillespie – their friend and once the partner of Raco’s brother Charlie and mother of seventeen-year-old Zara – everyone agreed that it should be postponed.
Kim had disappeared from the Marralee Valley Annual Food and Wine Festival leaving her six-week-old daughter Zoe asleep in a bassinet. Zoe is not found until almost all the attendees had left the festival. Neither Kim – nor her body – has yet been found. Her husband Rohan was in the township visiting his parents when he was told that Kim could not be found.
Twelve months later, the festival again takes place and the postponed christening will now go ahead. It is a very clever strategy to bring everyone back to the same place for the same purpose [the christening or the festival] exactly twelve months later. It is inevitable that their minds will go back to the day of Kim’s disappearance.
A second narrative is the earlier death of Dean Tozer – father of seventeen-year-old Joel – who died in a hit and run accident. The driver of the car which struck and killed him has never been found. Joel refuses to allow anyone – especially the police – to forget about his father and finding the driver.
The early parts of the novel are characterised by love and warmth between members of the Raco family and their friends – and to Aaron Falk. There is an easy familiarity between them as they negotiate the few days before the christening. But as a counterpoint, memories of that day twelve months previously come to the surface as people reconsider what they saw – or believed they saw. As Aaron says ‘we see what we expect to see’. As memories are interrogated, some semblance of truth begins to emerge – and not all is as it seems.
Running beneath the two narratives is the story of Rohan and Kim. The reader increasingly feels a sense of unease and discomfort as the dynamics of their relationship are exposed. While her friends in Marralee ask each other how and why did they lose contact with Kim after she moved to Adelaide, the reasons for the estrangement begin to emerge – and the reasons are not pleasant.
Linking the various strands of the narratives is Aaron Falk. Applying his forensic skills honed by his experience as an investigator – and assisted by two of the Raco brothers who are police officers – he is able to discern what actually happened on the day Kim disappeared. Along the way, he discovers the identity of the driver of the car which killed Joel’s father.
While this may appear at first glance to be a rather complicated and complex story, it is handled masterfully by the author. It is a fine novel – full of warmth and engaging characters but with an undercurrent of coercion and isolation. The story of Kim and Rohan is a brilliant study of an unhappy marriage set as a counterpoint to the loving relationships of the Raco family and their friends. Exiles will stand equally with the author’s previous novels and is a pleasure to read.
Jane Harper is the author of four previous books – The Dry, Force of Nature, The Lost Man, and The Survivors. She has won numerous awards including the Australian Industry Awards Book of the Year, the CWA Gold Dagger Award for the Best Crime Novel, and the British Book Awards Crime and Thriller Book of the Year. Exiles is her fifth novel and third [and final] book to feature Aaron Falk.
by Jane Harper
ISBN 978 176078 395 2