Pan MacMillan, 2 February 2023
Available as: HB, 432pp, audio, e
Source: Advance e-copy
I adore Jane Harper's Aaron Falk books. Falk, a financial detective with the Australian police, has a knack of finding himself with crimes to solve in remote small towns. Some of these have been very personal, touching his own past and that of his family, and we have seen him very raw, very exposed, by what has emerged.
Here, in Exiles, he seems to be healing somewhat when he visits the remote community of Marralee Valley for the baptism of his closest friend's child. Even so, he can't escape a mystery his previous visit, a year ago, coincided with the disappearance of a woman who left her baby in his pushchair at a festival. Her family and friends plan using the anniversary to appeal for information, and staying on for a few days, Falk begins to pull and tease at the case.
I simply loved this book. Not only do we get a classic, absolutely cracking crime story here - a sort of locked room mystery in reverse - but we get to spend time with Aaron. Harper's handling of all her themes here - the close knit group of friends and family who seem, even so, to have lost one of their own. The teenage daughter perplexed at her mum's disappearance. A romantic subplot for Falk - perhaps. And lush, beautiful writing about place and environment, not, this time, a desiccated, dying town but a place of greenery and enterprise, the annual Food and Wine Festival bringing much needed visitor dollars and business to the region's vineyards and producers.
It's a story that takes its time, following a gentle pace and establishing everyone's viewpoint - except of course for Kim, the missing mother of two. We hear about her from her circle, how much she is missed, what she was going through and we are given - in recollections from those friends of growing up in the time - a vivid impression of her when younger, too.
This is in so many respects a beautiful book, readable, beguiling, a sensitive and even moving portrait of small town life and of the compromises and losses of going up, of the lengths people will go for love. The writing is glorious, the dialogue and the characters simply superb.
It also has some portraits of the darker side of human nature. I won't be specific because that is tightly bound with the secret of what happened a year ago in Marralee. I will say that Exiles also celebrates solidarity, nurturing and gentle, persistent love. Indeed I think this is at the core of the book.
I was also so pleased to see Aaron healing and growing, if you follow these books you will understand what I mean when I say he is a very special man and I just love the development and growth we see in the books.
To summarise: this is a wonderful, outstanding in what was already and outstanding series. I don't know whether Harper is going to let Aaron Falk rest for a bit now, he certainly deserves it though I for one would be delighted to meet him again in a future book.
Probably my favourite of the year so far, don't miss this one.
For more information about Exiles, see the publisher's website here.
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