The Dry by Jane Harper
The book starts out with death. A murder/suicide blamed on the harsh conditions of an Australian drought. The isolated farming town of Kiewarra is the background setting for Jane Harper’s The Dry a crime fiction novel published in 2016.
Aaron Falk returns to the town he grew up in to attend the funeral of his friend Luke Hadler, a funeral he might have skipped if not for the accusatory note sent by Gerry Hadler, “Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.” Falk is a Federal Agent and the elder Hadler needs him to look into the death of his son.
A past death is entwined in the story. As youngsters Falk and Hadler had a close friendship with Ellie Deacon, a victim of a drowning during their high school years. Before the drowning the group became a foursome during the teen years with the addition of Gretchen Schoner. The storyline does an excellent job of fleshing out the teenagers flaws and discloses how those surviving evolved as adults. Town folk at the time were suspicious of Falk and Luke Hadler provided him with an alibi. Naturally, the current situation is compounded by the mystery of the past.
Falk and the current local law, Sargent Raco have doubts about the crime. Why was the baby spared and not the grade school son? Why leave the house, after killing the wife and son and then commit suicide? Why, was the ammunition used a different brand than what Luke Hadler had stocked? Thus, the basis of the story is discovery of the truth.
Harper does an outstanding job bringing the setting to life. The reader can almost feel the scorching heat. It is easy to see how such dire conditions could lead to a murder/ suicide. The characters are complex and interesting. The flashbacks are key to understanding the present. A few twists and turns in the plot keep the reader engaged.
The italicized flashbacks flesh out the characters. Harper used this technique to let the reader glimpse the background of the story line. Usually I do not like books with this style of writing because the two time periods make it difficult to follow the story line. However, The Dry works well with this type of writing, perhaps because the two tie so well together. The first death could be a catalyst for the second. Thus I did not see the ending coming.
I enjoyed reading the story. I was caught up in both the plot and the characters. The suspense level was adequate as this book should be categorized as a fictional crime more than a mystery. The key difference is subtle. You are not on the edge of your seat wondering who will be the next victim. Instead you follow the lead characters as the past is confronted and the murder/suicide is exposed along with an outstanding development of characters.
Go to the nearest library or bookstore and look for Jane Harper’s The Dry. You won’t be disappointed. This is a tremendous effort for a first publication. I like her writing and look forward to reading her future works.