One of three brothers is found dead from exposure under the scorching sun of outback Queensland. There’s a hole dug by hand in the red earth next to his body which is found by the isolated grave of a dead stockman whose own demise many years before is the subject of myths and legends. The circumstances of his death are odd. The dead guy is an experienced stockman and knew how easy was to perish in the open. His fully stocked vehicle is found in perfect working order ten kilometers away with the keys resting on the driver seat . The question is whether he committed suicide or was killed.
The remaining family gather at the station house of the dead man in the lead up to his funeral and Christmas. Their shared history and personal secrets come nipping at their heels like a hungry dingo.
A sense of lawlessness lingers through the story and the intensity is amplified by the relentless isolation and heat of the outback that sizzles throughout the setting of the novel. It makes a perfect backdrop for exploring the psychology of intergenerational trauma and violence that The Lost Man puts under the microscope. Harper shows what can happen when access to services, friends and neighbours are limited and problems are dealt with in private.
The book is a disturbing page turner and Harper has once again bought ordinary characters to life by exposing the complex layers of their personalities. Family members face the ugliness of their own shortcomings and expose the underlying noxious histories between them that led to one of their own lying dead alone next to a deserted grave.
Main image: Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Inset image: The Lost Man cover (from the web)