Note: placed a potential spoiler after the asterisks. Also: I totally picked up this book for that cover; fortunately, the premise looked good, too.
Flatiron Books, 2016
Hardcover, 326 pages
The drought has been hard on Kiewarra (a rural town in Australia), but that has merely upped the intensity for an already fraught place to live. When Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to his childhood town, he finds little has actually changed despite the murder-suicide of a childhood best friend. The old secrets haunt, and for every fresh face, there are five older ones to taunt him.
Questions: What will a sense of desperation drive a person to do? Could Luke Halder have actually shot his wife and son before turning the gun on himself? Does this tragedy have anything to do with the death of Aaron & Luke’s friend Ellie Deacon when they were all teenagers? And just how long will Falk withstand his sense of obligation in Kiewarra?
Jane Harper doesn’t mess around in the debut mystery of hers. She will convince you of any number of possibilities concerning the Hadlers and Ellie. It’s a pleasure trying to suss out the mystery and engage with the characters. And Harper writes some great characters, to include the setting. That viable initial sketch takes on greater nuance and meaning as you wonder just who these people both were and are.
The use of time to add that sense of urgency is tricky when Luke Hadler is a viable suspect, Ellie has since been dead years now, and Luke isn’t around to answer one very particular question. The urgency rests on Falk’s ability to tolerate his stay in Kiewarra. The townsfolk can be vicious, and Falk isn’t that taken with rural life.
The murder of a child is difficult, and in a genre that seems to increasingly test the tolerance of readers with graphic renderings and human depravity, Harper is mindful that she can achieve a proper level of horror and sadness without added shock value. The premise is disturbing enough, a man murdering his wife and son, all she has to do is give you the sensation that he might actually have been capable of it.
Harper makes you wonder a lot of things, and she doesn’t wrap everything up neatly—sorry, if you are into that level of tidiness. You will learn what happened to the Hadlers and Ellie Deacon, but it’s a question of what comes after. In a novel that participates in that fundamental mystery of a person’s trajectory, just what will the Falk we’ve come to know do with the information he’s been given?
The Dry is an entertaining read if not, you know, disturbing and deeply saddening. This is book one with Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk, and I’m looking forward to what Jane Harper has in store for Force of Nature (Flatiron, 2018).
Recommended for readers of Mysteries and Thrillers, especially not-so-gritty ones. Readers of Westerns. For those who like to read authors of other countries or stories set in other countries.
If I were to pair this with a film: The Dressmaker (2015) w/ Kate Winslet.
**I enjoyed the use of italics in that cinematic cut-away (usually to the past); it’s especially lovely in that it persuades you to believe you are watching a scene omnisciently told—and that isn’t always the case.**