The Dry: Jane Harper

Published by Flatiron Books and Abacus

Kiewarra, a town in the Australian Outback. The land is bone dry: the rains have failed again, and farmers are struggling to survive, as is everyone else. Many of the shops are boarded up.

Karen Hadler and her six-year-old son Billy are found shot in their home, with only baby Charlotte left alive. Luke, the husband, is found dead in his car, ostensibly having committed suicide.

Luke had lived in Kiewarra all his life and had taken over his parents’ farm, where he lived with Karen and their children. When the family was found dead, it was assumed that Luke had killed them and then taken his own life.

Aaron Falk, a childhood friend of Luke’s, travels up from Melbourne for the funeral. Aaron is a policeman, now working for the financial fraud office. He grew up in Kiewarra, but when he was a teenager, he and his father had to leave town after Ellie, a close friend of Aaron’s and Luke’s, was found dead in the river. A note with “Falk” written on it was found in Ellie’s pocket and suspicion fell on the father and son. No one ever found out what really happened to her, and Aaron is still haunted by her death.

So when Aaron returns, rumours start flying and old enmities are stirred up again. Luke’s parents ask Aaron to find out what happened to their son and his family: they want to know whether Luke actually did kill his family. Aaron starts to doubt that Luke was responsible, and joins forces with the local policeman, Sergeant Raco, to investigate.

But Aaron and Luke shared a secret that, if revealed, could blow everything apart. Did the Hadler tragedy have anything to do with Ellie’s death?

This is an atmospheric book. Jane Harper captures the claustrophobia of a town where people know your business and remember everything about you, and where grudges are borne for a long time.

Kiewarra is a place that is suffering and tinder dry, not just literally but emotionally, where the slightest spark can set off a conflagration. You can feel the dust and dryness, and the tension and despair that permeate the town.

Harper paints a devastating picture of the drought, a picture that is becoming frighteningly familiar. On Luke’s farm, Falk remembers that “he should be hearing the rush of water. The distinct sound of the river carving its way through the country. … There was only an eerie nothingness. …. The huge river was nothing more than a dusty scar in the land. … He stopped in the dead centre of the river, in the open void where the heavy ribbon of water had once been deep enough to close over his head. … He stood on shaky legs, his vision blurred as all around the cockatoos whirled and screamed into the scorching red sky. Alone, in that monstrous wound, Falk put his face in his hands and, just once, screamed himself.”

This is an impressive debut novel and I am looking forward to discovering the rest of the series.

Buy from UK / USA

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