The Dry by Jane Harper
|The Dry by Jane Harper|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A stunning debut novel. A triple death case looks like an open & shut murder/suicide and logged as such, until questions start being asked by a local cop with no real connection to the town he now works in, and a city copy with every connection to a death twenty years before. The tension of a town crippled by drought and by its own prejudices haunts the pages of this taught investigation.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: June 2017|
|External links: Author's website|
Sometimes a book takes a while to get into. Sometimes it's quicker than that. If Harper hadn't grabbed me in the first paragraph, she certainly had half-way down the second page: So nothing reacted when deep inside the house, the baby started crying.
The house we already know by now is a horrific murder scene. Aaron Falk is back for the funeral. Back, that is, to his childhood home town of Kiewarra. Back, that is, for the funeral of his best friend from back then. Time was when Aaron and Luke were inseparable… unless it was by the two girls who gradually joined to make up the teenage gang of four: Luke, Aaron, Ellie and Gretchen. The four of them had been solid as a rock. But even rocks cracked.
The cracks had started show, maybe…then Ellie died. Found drowned in the river. Suicide they said, officially. Townsfolk had other ideas. Aaron and his dad left town.
Now – twenty years on - his dad is dead and Aaron is back, because so is Luke. Dead, that is. Luke, his wife, their young son…only the baby left alive, in her cot, crying. The theory is that Luke shot his wife and son, and then drove out into the bush where he sat down on the back bed of his ute and finished the job by blowing his own head off. Cut and dried, murder/suicide.
Except the family don't believe it. Of course they don't. But for Luke's father it's a bit worse than that. He knows that the story told about Luke and Aaron's whereabouts the day Ellie died isn't true. He knows about the lies. So although it is the worst thing in the world to even begin to comprehend, he starts to wonder if what people are saying is true – if Luke really did kill his family and then himself…then, is this the first time he has killed? It is the kind of thing a father would need to know.
Aaron is a cop, but not a homicide cop – his speciality is financial investigations: white collar crime. To the folk of Kiewarra a cop is a cop, and besides, Aaron owes Luke. So against his best intentions he is drawn in to investigating exactly what happened at the Hadler farm. Those investigations can't help but open up old wounds. It might be twenty years, but Ellie's father still has the neighbouring farm, her cousin is still in town stirring up trouble, as much as Luke's parents want answers, the general feeling is different. Aaron is most definitely not welcome.
The local man of the law, Sergeant Raco, is also a newcomer to the area – so he has no axe to grind, but also no respect or history upon which to call in favours and even honest treatment. The official case was handled at a level beyond the local station and they were keen enough to close it down as what to all intents and purposes it looked like…but to Raco there are unanswered questions.
If the two men can get past their innate suspicion of each other there is information to be shared. Certainly not much will be coming from the rest of the townsfolk – some of whom have long memories, whilst others are in-comers with secrets of their own.
All of this is set against a backdrop of Australia's worst drought in a century. It hasn't rained in Kiewarra for two years. The farmers are past struggling, they're slowly collapsing – and when a farming community caves in, the impact is felt right through the supply chain, the local towns suffer most, being utterly dependent: the shops stop selling, and when they close, there's even fewer people employed, even less money to go around. It might be a global economy, but it impacts very close to home. What we call a farm might be a multi-million dollar agri-business, but when the rains fail for a couple of years in a row, it doesn't take much else before you've got dead animals in the fields and crops barely struggling out of the ground.
The town was a tinder-box before the latest tragedy. It's going to be a claustrophobic and utterly personal investigation… if, indeed, there is anything to investigate. With times this hard, who knows what Luke might have been driven to. Except, there is the baby…Charlotte. Why was she left alive?
Three pages of plaudits at the beginning of book don't overstate just how good this is. From the crime perspective, it is utterly convincing, succinctly and tightly plotted with all the correct clues and red herrings in all the right places. There are any number of possibilities proposed for what might have happened or why certain things were done or not done, and some of the more obvious ones are not mentioned – which may or may not be relevant. There are twists you don't see coming, and some you think are coming that don't arrive. It is subtly clever.
Speaking of clever…this is small town Australia in the grip of a ferocious drought. The sense of place is stifling (in the best sense) – and it's only when you come back to look in more detail that you have to wonder how that has been achieved. It is a completely plot-driven book, and that's enough to keep the pages turning. Characters are only just strong enough to hold up their end of the bargain. Dialogue in particular is sharp and to the point. But description barely gets a look-in, and yet it seeps like dust between the lines, you can feel the atmosphere.
This might be a debut novel, but don't let that fool you. Definitely recommended.
If you enjoy this, you’ll also love Bitterwash Road by Gary Disher – or indeed vice versa!
You can read more book reviews or buy The Dry by Jane Harper at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Dry by Jane Harper at Amazon.com.
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