Sunday, March 19, 2023

Review: Exiles by Jane Harper

by Jane Harper
Release Date: January 31, 2023
2023 Flatiron Books
Kindle Edition; 356 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250235350
Audiobook: B09YJ1 692Y
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
At a busy festival site on a warm spring night, a baby lies alone in her pram, her mother vanishing into the crowds.

A year on, Kim Gillespie’s absence casts a long shadow as her friends and loved ones gather deep in the heart of South Australian wine country to welcome a new addition to the family.

Joining the celebrations is federal investigator Aaron Falk. But as he soaks up life in the lush valley, he begins to suspect this tight-knit group may be more fractured than it seems.

My Thoughts
Exiles is the third entry in the Aaron Falk series, and unfortunately, this was my least favourite of the series. This one is more personal for Aaron, but in a different way as it involves his current friend group, a group that grew up together and has intimacies and ties that go back decades.  Aaron, as an outsider, has a unique viewpoint to examine those relationships and find out what actually happened to Kim a year ago. And while I found all of that interesting, it was a slow, slow burn, something I don't normally mind, but the denouement had little excitement and that level of tension the author was able to keep up in the previous two books was missing from this one. 

First of all, I loved the setting of this book. The wine country and festival descriptions were interesting and I could definitely picture myself there, walking amongst the rows of grapes, or by the reservoir. I also liked learning about some of the conflicting traditions that currently exist, such as the teenagers drinking spot on the first night of the festival.  And while it seems all in good fun, the author interweaves the darker aspects of those traditions into the story, something I liked.  We also get a glimpse of the what the adults think of these traditions now their kids are doing them and I find that quite fascinating, having gone through the teenage years with my own kids and the challenges that posed.  

The weakest aspect of this book was the mystery. The story didn't seem to have the same level of tension or sense of urgency of the previous books, and at first, I was okay with that.  But as the story progressed and the level of tension never seemed to grow, I had a hard time continuing the story, even putting it down and finally picking it back up just to see if I was right as to who the murderer was several weeks later.  The story got stuck on the relationships between the characters, and while this was interesting, the mystery itself got stuck within all of that, and then the author would realize this and try to pull the story back to the mystery creating this dissonance.  The story never really delved into the mystery or went into full policing mode, and while I understand some of the reasons why, it did affect the overall story, the tension, and the ending.  

Exiles was a slow-burn mystery that never seemed to really raise the tension level as it focused more on Falk's relationship issues rather than the crime and the mystery.  Personally, I missed the darker tones of the previous novels and higher level of tension and excitement; this one seemed much cozier in nature with too many coincidences that made me grit my teeth.  The descriptions of the setting and the well-developed characters saved this book, but the overall mystery was weak and while many readers may have enjoyed the focus on the romance and the convenient denouement that entailed, I like my books to be grittier and more realistic. Aaron Falk is a great character and I enjoyed the conflict he was going through, but he deserved a better path to his denouement than he got.