Next door neighbours, we’re told, are three hours apart; so, this story works almost like a locked-room mystery. Some novels have such a powerful start that it reverberates all the way through the reading and The Lost Man is one of those.
From the opening moment, the prologue hints at clues which propel us along in that extraordinary setting. On the inscription of the stockman’s grave is a carved epitaph where only three words remains visible: “Who went astray”. The significance of these three words becomes fearfully clear by the time we reach the ending.
The mystery opens with a body and a horrific death brought about by a desperate search for the small shade created at the foot of the stockman’s grave, a nearly twenty-hour hour battle with death in 45° heat. And even worse is the fact that this isn’t a stranger but a local farmer raising the unanswered question of how someone so experienced in dealing with that environment could have ended up in that situation. Thoughts that it might have been the work of a passing stranger, or that the car had somehow failed, prove to be false trails and the truth, when it unravels, is shocking.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper is published by Macmillan. This is her third crime novel.