Exiles is the third (and final?) book in the police procedural series set in rural Australia featuring federal tax investigator Aaron Falk written by Jane Harper. The other books in the Falk series are The Dry (2016) and Force of Nature (2017). Harper is well-known for her suspenseful, lyrical mystery novels and Exiles (2023) is another example of this.
This time the main mystery is the disappearance of a 39-year-old new mother from a food and wine festival being held in a small rural (fictional) town named Marralee in the Australian wine country in Victoria. The missing woman is Kim Gillespie, the ex-wife of Charlie Raco, who is the brother of Aaron’s friend Greg Raco, another Australian cop who we were introduced to in Force of Nature. Aaron had been named godfather to Greg and Rita’s newborn kid Henry and was in town for the christening the very day Kim disappeared. He was at the Raco home when Kim called Zara, the 17-year-old daughter she had with Charlie to discuss how they would meet up at the Maralee festival.
All this information is provided in the prologue. When the story begins it's one year later and Aaron is driving to Marralee again to finally participate in the long-delayed christening of his godson, Henry Raco. We learn how the family members have been affected by Kim’s disappearance, and we get introduced to Kim’s husband, Rohan and his and Kim’s daughter. We also learn that Kim’s disappearance is not the only violent crime that the small town of Marralee has known. About five years ago there was a hit-and-run very near the site of the Festival, again during opening weekend (which is when Kim disappeared) that resulted in the death of Dean Tozer, the husband of Gemma Tozer and father of Joel. Joel and Kara are now teenage friends, bonded together through the loss of their parents.
One key aspect of Harper’s mysteries that makes them so compelling is that she uses her books to comment on and depict contemporary Australian life and the social problems that are lying below the surface. For example, in Exiles drinking alcohol by teenagers and the dangerous behaviors this can facilitate animates multiple important plot points. Ultimately, I would say that Exiles is about solitude, and the consequences of cutting oneself off (or being cut off by the actions of others) from the people around you that know you the best. (The book makes clear that in some cases this could be your family or your chosen family and doesn’t communicate any value judgments on the difference between them.)
Another key aspect of Harper’s mysteries, at least the ones that I have read that feature Aaron Falk, have been the internal dialogue of the protagonist. I wasn’t really that impressed with, or frankly very interested in, Falk’s inner life or personality in the first two books, The Dry and Forces of Nature, but in Exiles I really enjoyed getting to know him better. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but it could be that in addition to the career wanderlust that is a recurring theme in all three books, in Exiles he is also pursuing a romantic relationship. As a gay man reading about a straight male character (written by a presumably straight woman) falling in love, I was surprised at how much I was invested in the resolution of this storyline.Overall, Exiles is (by far!) the best of the Aaron Falk books written by Jane Harper. It is billed as the last in a trilogy of books but I hope that is not the case, I would love to spend more time in rural Australia with Falk as he solves crimes. But even if Harper doesn’t write more books featuring Falk I am confident she will write more compelling mysteries set in rural Australia in the future.
Title: Exiles (Aaron Falk, #3).
Author: Jane Harper.
Length: 353 pages.
Publisher: Orbit Books.
Date Published: May 26, 2022.
Date Read: May 22, 2023.
OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).