Exiles by Jane Harper

Today I share my thoughts on Exiles, the third book in the Aaron Falk series by Jane Harper, and also wish the author a very happy publication day. My thanks to publisher Macmillan for the advance copy for review. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy.
Release Date: 02 January 2023
Publisher: Orenda Books

About the Book

Critically acclaimed international bestseller Jane Harper returns.

A mother disappears from a busy festival on a warm spring night.

Her baby lies alone in the pram, her mother’s possessions surrounding her, waiting for a return which never comes.

A year later, Kim Gillespie’s absence still casts a long shadow as her friends and loved ones gather to welcome a new addition to the family.

Joining the celebrations on a rare break from work is federal investigator Aaron Falk, who begins to suspect that all is not as it seems.

As he looks into Kim’s case, long-held secrets and resentments begin to come to the fore, secrets that show that her community is not as close as it appears.

Falk will have to tread carefully if he is to expose the dark fractures at its heart, but sometimes it takes an outsider to get to the truth…

An outstanding novel, a brilliant mystery and a heart-pounding read from the author of The Dry, Force of Nature, The Lost Man and The Survivors.

My Thoughts

It will come as a surprise to absolutely no-one that follows this blog to hear that, despite this being the third book in the Aaron Falk trilogy, it’s the first one I’ve read. That said, aside from some alluding to prior events, nothing in this book should act as a spoiler to the rest of the series. It’s a testament to how much I was enjoying this book that, before I’d even finished it, I was buying books one and two to catch up and test that theory.

In Exiles, Federal Investigator Aaron Falk travels to the town of Marralee for the postponed christening of his godson, the youngest child of his old friend Raco. It’s an event mired in sadness as one year before a member of Raco’s extended family disappeared, leaving behind her two daughters, Zara, Raco’s niece, and her baby daughter Zoe. Aaron was present during the initial stages of the investigation, even acting as a witness being one of the last people to see Kim. Now he is back in town, the Festival is about to get underway and about to uncover some dark secrets that one person rather remained buried.

I really liked the character of Aaron Falk. He’s not what I would expect a police investigator to be, possibly because he works with financial crimes rather than murders or missing persons, but he was a caring and intuitive individual, even if some of his investigative skills were a touch rusty. There was a real humanity and almost vulnerability at times in the way the author portrayed him. I don’t mean as in weakness – he is far from that and there is a core strength and focus which is undeniable, but he is also someone who really feels emotion, and seeing how Jane Harper explored that through the course of the book really drew me into the story. It was one of the key reasons I became so invested in the book, as I became invested in him. I wanted to see those empty parts of his life filled, and was keen to see how the chemistry between him and festival organiser, Naomi, developed. Beyond Aaron, there is a real feeling of family and community throughout this book, and the author captures that spirit of a small, tight knit town, where one persons death or disappearance can create far reaching shockwaves.

The opening to the book is simple and yet effective. The questioning about how the whole situation, Kim’s disappearance, could have been avoided. In asking this simple question, Jane harper not only sets up the whole premise of what is to follow, but creates a kind of melancholic and slightly chilling air that flows throughout the book. The stark implications of what we are reading really hit home, and lead to a myriad of questions that are slowly answered as we move throughout the book.

As it turns out, Aaron is faced with not one, but two puzzles to solve. The first, and by far the one which dominates the whole book, is the disappearance of Kim. Although not officially engaged on the case, his natural curiosity, and the ties to Kim through Raco and his brother, Charlie, Zara’s father, lead to him really questioning what happened twelve months earlier. Little niggles over the investigation comes to the surface. Things that may have been missed, inconsistencies in stories and witness testimonies. Although mostly set in the present, small moments of reminiscence reveal snippets of clues to readers, and if you are really eagle eyed, some of the, eventually, more obvious elements of the final reveal will be clear. But I like that the truth is very slowly, very carefully revealed. Those moments in between are filled with a vivid and emotive depiction of the impact that the whole situation has had on the family, the repercussions of the what ifs that linger. It might not be a high octane, all action thriller, but the emotional footprint is still keenly felt. Beyond this, Aaron has half an eye on a hit and run from many years earlier that resulted in the death of Naomi’s husband.

Mystery flows through this book like a river. The number of suspects in Kim’s disappearance is potentially infinite, visitors to the festival coming from far and wide. But there is always that sense that someone close to home knows more than they are letting on. Suspicion over whether this was an act of a third party or whether Kim may have taken her own life remain, but with so much contradiction and uncertainty, the focus and suspicion moves gradually amongst the characters. Towards the end as the full truth is revealed, the stark nature of what came to past really hits home leading to a shocking, if brief but emotional ending.

A beautifully written book where the narrative really puts you in the heart of the community and the depiction of Marralee is so clear that I felt as though I was walking amongst the festival stalls and the trails that encircled the reservoir. Moving, captivating, full of mystery and brilliant characters this is definitely recommended. I cannot wait to read the first two books now.

About the Author

Jane Harper is the author of four internationally bestselling Australian mysteries, including The Dry. Her books are published in 40 territories and have sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. Jane has won numerous top awards including the CWA Gold Dagger, the British Book Awards Crime and Thriller Book of the Year and the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year. The 2021 movie adaptation of The Dry, starring Eric Bana, is one of the highest grossing Australian films of all time.

Jane worked as a print journalist for 13 years in both Australia and the UK, and now lives in Melbourne with her husband, daughter and son.

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