Two subsequent crime novels — “Force of Nature” and “The Lost Man,” which is about to be released in the United States by Flatiron Books — have sold an additional 600,000 copies. There’s also a movie version of “The Dry” in production, starring Eric Bana and produced by Bruna Papandrea of “Big Little Lies” fame. And a baby, who arrived in between international best sellers. Harper is unfailingly modest, but she did admit that “life has changed so much in the last few years.”
“It was stunning,” offered a former colleague, Victoria MacDonald, of her friend winning a major literary award for a manuscript she knew nothing about, and then becoming Australia’s most widely read crime writer. “She didn’t have a smartphone for a really long time” — 2014, Harper later confirmed — “and I remember thinking that the time the rest of us were wiling away on Candy Crush were the moments Jane must have been working on her book.”
[Read our reviews of “The Dry” and “Force of Nature.”]
Harper outlined her writing process in a TEDx Talk last October called “Creativity in Your Control.” She returns often to the idea that artistic endeavor is made easier — and more enjoyable — with planning. “If you focus on the technical aspects,” she says, neat red corkscrew curls bobbing, “you can build a framework which serves as a base for your creative ideas.”
Harper’s TEDx Talk was in part, perhaps, an effort to set the record straight: Much has been made in the news media about a 12-week creative writing course she took in 2014 through an offshoot of the London branch of the literary agency Curtis Brown. Shortly afterward, she produced the manuscript of “The Dry.” When Harper was asked at lunch about the course, it was the one time she seemed anything less than sunny. “I think honestly the impact of that has been overstated,” she said. “I was a journalist for thirteen years. I wrote every single day. I wrote thousands of words a week under pressure.” The course, she said, merely offered her some external accountability.
The writing is the “fun part” for Harper, but for several months beforehand, she plots. As her Australian editor Cate Paterson said, every development in a Jane Harper story feels credible. “It’s one of the things that I get annoyed about with other crime writers,” Paterson said. “Some late inclusion, or a new character out of the blue, is the one who did it, but what I find with Jane is that the clues are there all along and she puts them together in a clever way.”
Another element that Paterson said elevates Harper’s books from procedurals is an attention to character. At the center of both “The Dry” and “Force of Nature” is Aaron Falk, a Melbourne detective. In “The Dry,” he is forced to confront a dark chapter in his past as he solves a murder in his hometown; in “Force of Nature,” he searches for a missing hiker, lost in the woods outside the city. Falk, at times infuriating in his emotional inhibition, is a particularly compelling creation.