Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review of The Dry by Jane Harper (Abacus, 2016)

Aaron Falk left Kiewarra when he was sixteen, run out of town by the father and nephew of a teenage girl found drowned in the creek who believe one of the Falks is responsible for her death. Falk has reluctantly returned twenty years later for the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler. With a devastating drought bringing misery to farmers, it appears that Hadler shot his wife and young boy, leaving his baby girl alive, before turning the gun on himself. It seems like an open-and-shut case, but neither Luke’s father nor the local police sergeant are fully convinced that everything is as it looks. They persuade Falk to help with their unofficial investigation, though all he wants to do is leave a town that is still openly hostile to his presence. While trying to piece together the final hours of the Hadler’s lives, Falk also rakes over the case that led to his banishment.

The Dry is Jane Harper’s debut novel featuring financial cop, Aaron Falk. The tale is set in a small rural town and its hinterland in Australia during a devastating drought and focuses on the apparent murder-suicide of Luke Hadler - Falk’s childhood best friend - and his family, and the death of their friend, Ellie Deacon, twenty years previously. Falk is personae non-grata, suspected by the local community of being responsible for Ellie’s death. Harper nicely portrays the sense of place of rural Australia, the claustrophobia, tension, and desperation of a community struggling to survive, and the bitterness of unresolved accusations and intimidation. The narrative interweaves to good effect the two murders, time-shifting back-and-forth from the present to Falk’s teenage years and the days leading up to the Hadler deaths. Harper maintains the menace throughout, and while the resolution of one of the threads is kind of obvious from the start, the other is a nice puzzle with a twist. Overall, a captivating opening to a new series.

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