Author: Jane Harper
The Dry is a gripping suspense debut by Australian Jane Harper, and it was captivating. With a debut this convincing Harper will be a name to watch.
Set in a small outback farming town suffering terribly through the drought we find that things are not always as they seem. The drought is taking it’s toll on the land, the town and the people so it’s utterly devastating when Luke Hadler, one of their own, turns a gun on his wife and child before himself. The murder/suicide rocks the small town of Kiewarra and brings Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk back for the funerals in a purely personal capacity.
Falk and Hadler were childhood best friends and they kept in touch, sporadically, after Falk and his father were run out of town two decades earlier. Hadler’s parents were like family to Aaron as a boy so when they ask him to look over Luke’s financials to see if he can see anything that looks suspicious he can’t bring himself to say no, and Luke’s dad has an ace up his sleeve just in case he’s tempted to say no.
A one night stay in Kiewarra to attend the funerals before heading back to Melbourne extended out to a couple of days, then to a week. Falk wasn’t welcomed back to town, not that he expected to be after the way things were when he left, but things were even worse than he would have imagined. He wanted to give it all up and leave on more than one occasion but felt he owed it to the Hadlers to see it through, and the more digging he did the more invested he got in the final outcome.
We find out early on why the Falks were run out of town and it seems there are still questions left unanswered from the past, and digging into the events of the present bring up those questions from the past.
Two time periods can be confusing at the best of times, and Harper hasn’t given the past it’s own chapters or even labelled it. The only way we know we’re jumping back in time is that the font changes and this worked beautifully for me. Events of the present would bring up a relevant event or memory from the past and we would learn about it right then. I found this method effective and captivating. It was often only a relatively short break in the present timeline and the flow was seamless.
This is a suspenseful novel with lots of interesting twists and unexpected turns. The seemingly cut and dried murder/suicide was maybe not so clear cut after all and the town that drove Falk out is hiding some pretty major secrets of its own. I don’t want to look at the storyline here because it would so easily end up a spoilerfest.
The Dry explores the harsh realities of drought stricken farming communities and the effect it has on the entire town. The money dries up with the fields which makes business difficult and the town needs to pull together; sometimes this works better than other times.
Falk is lucky enough to find camaraderie with a few residents who have moved to town in the time he’s been gone. They are fast told the history but they have no personal stake so manage to remain objective and manage to all work together on unraveling events.
All of the elements of The Dry come together beautifully in a compelling novel of secrets, betrayals and a small town torn apart by death and drought. I was captivated by the beautifully drawn characters, the harsh realities of the settings and the beauty of Harper’s storytelling. I will definitely be on the lookout for more of her work.
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