The Dry by Jane Harper
Published by Little, Brown in 2017
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.
Aaron Falk left the small town of Kiewarra many years ago, but returns for the funeral of his ex-best friend Luke. Luke has committed suicide, after apparently murdering his wife and young son – or has he? Some people in the small town aren’t convinced and Falk, a policeman himself, ends up hooking up with local cop Raco to investigate.
The story is told mainly from Falk’s point of view, but we do get several flashbacks, and find out that there is a mystery in Falk’s past too. Implicated in the death of a local girl Ellie back when they were teenagers, Falk and his father ended up fleeing the small town in disgrace. Is this case somehow connected to the current spate of murders?
The tension in this novel builds up really well, and you get a very good sense of a small town suffering its worst drought, with tensions and temperatures running high. I really liked the depiction of the small pub where Falk stays, which seems to be populated by blokes out for a fight – and many of them seem quite happy with their new target with the reappearance of Falk to town.
The flashbacks are done really well, with just short snippets throughout the book instead of long sections, meaning we get hints of the past and a few different viewpoints, but without it taking over from the current story. I liked the way the two cops formed an unlikely bond and worked together to try and build up a bigger picture of what had happened on the fateful evening that three members of the same family lost their lives.
What often puts me off thrillers like this is that they become implausible and try too hard to shock the reader. I feel that The Dry didn’t fall into this trap. Instead the plot builds up really well with believable twists and turns and a quietly gripping storyline. The location and characters are interesting, and even the love interest – which could have put me right off! – was handled well and didn’t detract at all from the main story.
Overall, the novel felt believable and had a strong plot. It grips you but never crosses into ridiculous territory, as many thrillers do. The characters feel real and I also enjoyed having a narrator you can empathise with – again, many thrillers seem to get bogged down with unpleasant characters, but actually Falk is a real good guy, as is Raco, and this too felt refreshing.
I would definitely recommend this excellent book to anyone who enjoys thrillers but doesn’t need too many dramatic twists and turns along the way.
My rating: 8 out of 10
Guest review contributed by A House of Books. The real house of books is based near London, but the virtual one is on her blog. Along with her book reviews, she posts the occasional opinion piece.