When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path. But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her colleagues tells a slightly different story about what happened. Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In his investigation he will discover a tangled web of friendship and betrayal.

Last year Jane Harper released her debut novel, The Dry, a book which became an almost instant bestseller and which was one of my favourite books of 2017. Force of Nature is the sequel and Harper’s second novel. Second books are notoriously difficult, but Harper has proved that she is no one-trick pony.

Force of Nature is just as thrilling, clever and tense as its predecessor. Once again Harper has chosen a vivid setting. In The Dry she gave us the drought-stricken setting of rural Australia, with its wide open spaces and red-tinted desert. In the sequel Harper introduces us to a completely different side of Australia: the lush, claustrophobic bushland, where paths are easily lost beneath your feet, rain falls for weeks on end and unseen creatures move between the trees.

Into this dangerous landscape walk five women forced to spend time together for a corporate retreat. In the depths of the forest, without the usual societal boundaries and with the need for survival moving to the fore, their polite masks begin to slip and we begin to glimpse the primal, possibly even violent, self beneath. The complicated web of relationships between these women creates plenty of tension amid barely concealed hostility.

Harper is a master at planting red herrings. Just when you think you’ve worked out what’s going to happen next, she throws another curveball your way and you’re completely wrong-footed. This makes for a tense, exciting reading experience, and makes sure you’re never able to put the book aside for too long. And even if you somehow guess what’s going to happen, you’re still bound to have lots of fun on the journey.

Harper was a former journalist and you can see that in the clean, crisp prose; not a word here is wasted, yet characters and settings are conjured vividly all the same.

I wouldn’t say it was necessary to read The Dry before reading Force of Nature – though you’d be missing out on a great book if you didn’t, and the sequel does continue on the personal journey of Aaron Falk. Around him Harper creates a cast of lively and interesting characters. I particularly liked Carmen, Falk’s new police agent partner. My only complaint is that there were times when twins Bree and Beth became difficult to differentiate (and the fact that they were both on the retreat in the first place requires a little suspension of disbelief).

Harper has proved once again that she is a master of the thriller genre. Highly, highly recommended.

Many thanks to Little Brown for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.