EXILES By Jane Harper (Macmillan, 20 September 2022)
Jane Harper was not the first Australian author to write outback crime novels, but she was certainly instrumental in establishing it as one of the most popular forms of crime writing in the world today. Jane’s The Dry was an outstanding success, that has been helped in recent years by the popularity of the movie starring Eric Bana as detective Aaron Falk. Jane’s subsequent three books, including two non-Falk novels, also proved popular and helped cement her reputation as one of the world’s leading crime writers.
Now after five year break from Aaron Falk, she returns to her popular detective with another well crafted and engaging novel. Exiles (Macmillan, 20 September 2022) is set in the heart of South Australia’s wine region and revolves around the disappearance of a young mother during a local annual festival. Kim Gillespie’s baby is found alone in her pram towards the end of the night’s festivities. There is no sign of Kim and despite an intensive search she is never found.
A year on and Kim’s absence still casts a long shadow over the community. There is uncertainty and suspicion among her friends and family, as they gather again for the annual festival and to celebrate the christening of the daughter of Falk’s friends, George and Rita Raco from The Dry. Falk tries to enjoy the family celebration and soak up life in the lush valley, but he finds himself increasingly drawn to the mystery of the missing woman and an earlier death. He also begins to suspect that the tight-knit group of friends gathered together that weekend may be more fractured than it seems.
Exiles is a leisurely paced novel, which takes some time to set up its various strands. The characters are well fleshed out and interesting, and Jane’s portrayal of the local community is rich and convincing. Jane carefully maps out the various elements of the story and keeps the reader guessing as to the outcome all the way to the final reveal. I must admit that I thought that I had part of it worked out, but I turned out to be totally wrong.
Enhancing the enjoyment of the story are some interesting developments in Falk’s personal life, which are maturely and credibly handled. Jane’s portrayal of relationships and how they change over time is well managed and she is skilled at creating believable younger characters. The book also sensitively handles themes around the impact of lost, parental relationships and how too often ‘we see what we expect to see’.
Stuck on a plane, I was able to read Exiles in a couple of sessions, and was thoroughly caught up in the story and the relationships. I suspect, however, that others reading it in short spurts may find the opening sections a little slow.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Exiles and thought that it was another first rate novel by Jane that will appeal to mystery fans and general readers. Four stars out of Five!
Exiles will be released in Australia on 20 September 2022. Unfortunately it is not released in the United Kingdom and the United States until February 2023. It can, however, be purchased direct from Australian stores.