Thursday, 15 December 2016

Book Review: THE DRY by Jane Harper

The Dry

Title: The Dry
Author: Jane Harper
Publisher: Macmillan Australia, Little, Brown Book Group UK
Read: November 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Luke Hadler turns a gun on his wife and child, then himself. The farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily. If one of their own broke under the strain, well...

When Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to Kiewarra for the funerals, he is loath to confront the people who rejected him twenty years earlier. But when his investigative skills are called on, the facts of the Hadler case start to make him doubt this murder-suicide charge.

And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, old wounds start bleeding into fresh ones. For Falk and his childhood friend Luke shared a secret... A secret Falk thought long-buried... A secret which Luke's death starts to bring to the surface...

My thoughts:

I was very excited about receiving a copy of The Dry from Netgalley, and it did not disappoint – in fact, it rocketed straight up the list to one of my all-time favourite reads of the year. I am hoping that Jane Harper won’t stop here, because I want to read a lot more from this exciting new voice in Australian crime fiction and perhaps even see the character of Aaron Falk come back in another book?

The story revolves around a terrible tragedy in Kiewarra, a small farming community affected by the worst drought in living history. Luke Hadler, a local farmer, is believed to have shot his wife and small son before turning the gun on himself in an apparent desperate murder-suicide, which has affected the whole community deeply. Most people are surprised to see one of Luke’s old friends, Detective Aaron Falk, make an appearance at Luke’s funeral. Twenty years ago, Aaron left Kiewarra under the cloud of another tragic death, and not everyone is ready to welcome him back. With old memories flooding back the minute he sets foot on Kiewarra soil, Aaron is eager to leave as soon as the funeral is over. But before he can make his escape, he is confronted by Luke’s parents, who beg him to look into Luke’s death. They do not believe that Luke killed himself and his family, and want his name cleared for the sake of his only surviving child, baby Charlotte. Out of love and respect for Luke’s parents, Aaron reluctantly agrees to stay for a few days to look into Luke’s affairs. Teaming up with the newly appointed local sergeant, Greg Raco, Aaron stumbles across a few discrepancies that throw up doubts about the case. Perhaps Luke’s death was not as clear-cut as initially thought?

It is hard to believe that this is the author’s debut novel, so masterful is her prose. Harper’s descriptive writing had me hooked straight from the start, picked me up, plucked me out of my comfortable armchair and deposited me straight into a harsh and remorseless rural Australian landscape.

“First on the scene, the flies swarmed contentedly in the heat as the blood pooled black over tiles and carpet. Outside, washing hung still on the rotary line, bone dry and stiff from the sun. A child’s scoter lay abandoned on the stepping stone path. Just one human heart beat within a kilometre radius of the farm. So nothing reacted when deep inside the house, the baby started crying.”

Chilling and impossible to put down, The Dry taps right into the beating heart of rural Australia. On one side, there is the honest hard work, the hope, the peace and tranquillity of farmers working hard for their livelihood. In the shadows, there is heartbreak, despair, utter hopelessness – people driven to the brink of endurance by the harsh elements of the Australian landscape. The volatility of the environment is reflected in the people that inhabit it, and Harper is a master at characterisation, serving us up true-to-life rounded characters that could be your family, your friends, your neighbours. Friendships are lost, trust broken. People band together in times of trouble, they hunt in packs. If you leave the pack, there is no way back in, as Aaron has had to find out the hard way. As he struggles to make sense of his friend’s death, he must also relive the memories of a tragedy in his past which ultimately changed his life forever.

The Dry is as honest and merciless like the harsh Australian landscape itself. Masterfully plotted, it carries the reader along in its wake to a terrible and totally unexpected finale. This is one of the best murder / mysteries I have read all year, and will appeal to readers of all ages and both genders alike. A masterful debut, very highly recommended!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

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