The Dry – Jane Harper

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I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.

Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.

*********

The Dry is a very good debut novel. I liked the writing. It kind of sucked me in immediately. I felt as if I was in that hot, dry town of Kiewarra which was suffering from a longstanding drought.

Aaron Falk is the outsider who has reluctantly returned to the town of Kiewarra where he had grown up, to attend the funeral of Luke Hadler and his wife and son. Luke and Aaron had been friends when they were younger but Aaron had left Kiewarra with his father and had gone to live in the city where he now worked as a policeman. Luke remained a farmer, married Karen and had two children. Apparently Luke came home on day shot his wife and son (but not the baby daughter) and then shot himself in the face.

Aaron planned to stay just for the funeral and wake and leave the next day but he is persuaded by Luke’s parents to stay on for a few days to look into the deaths to see if their son’s name can be cleared. What caused Luke to murder his wife and son? Was his business in financial ruin? When Aaron starts to investigate he finds a few things that just don’t make sense.

Things are complicated by the fact that Aaron is not welcome in the town. He and his father had left the town twenty odd years before having been under suspicion for the death of 16 year old Ellie Deacon, who had been Aaron’s girlfriend at the time. Luke had come up with an story that gave Aaron an alibi at that time but they had agreed to keep that secret between them.

However as Aaron and local police Sergeant Greg Raco investigate deeper, old wounds open, scores have to be settled. Emotions are running high. The drought has affected everyone. Livestock have had to be destroyed because there is no feed, debts are mounting, some farmers have been ruined. Was Luke another casualty of the drought?

Aaron is threatened, his vehicle is damaged, he is challenged in the street, he’s accused of harassment – the tension and the underlying threat of violence is kept running high.

In the meantime we get flashbacks to what actually happened in the past (printed in italics so easily distinguished from the present).

There are quite a few twists and red herrings. Just as Aaron and Raco think they have someone who could have been involved in the family’s murder, an alibi surfaces.

The writing is good and the characters are interesting. I liked the flashbacks to the past. Emotions and surroundings are at flashpoint (literally). A real page turner and a very good ending.

The Dry has already been published in Australia and the author’s webpage can be found here.

It’s scheduled for release in the UK 12 January 2017.

My thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for an advance copy.

 

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