The Dry by Jane Harper: A review

I read Jane Harper's The Lost Man a year ago and promised myself that I would read more of her books. Finally, I'm fulfilling that promise.

The Dry was actually Harper's first published novel. It came out in 2016 and was a big hit, winning many awards in Australia, her home country and the place where her novels are set. The book introduced Federal Agent Aaron Falk who has just returned from Melbourne to the small town of Kiewarra where he grew up in order to attend a funeral. The town is full of secrets and now is reeling from the shock of three violent deaths which have been presumed to be murders and a suicide. The presumed murderer is Aaron's childhood friend, Luke Hadler, and the other two victims are his wife and young son. His thirteen-month-old daughter was left alive and unharmed in her crib. Luke's parents cannot believe that their son could have killed his family and they ask Aaron to look into it. Aaron normally investigates financial crimes. Investigating murder is not exactly his forte. But Luke's mother is the closest thing to a mother that he ever had - his own mother died when he was born - and he can't turn her down.

Aaron's return to the town is complicated by the reason why he left in the first place. He and his father had left the town twenty years earlier when Aaron was sixteen and a girlfriend of his had been found drowned in the nearby river. The death was ruled to be a suicide but there were those who didn't believe it and ugly rumors spread that Aaron was somehow responsible, but he was provided with an alibi for the time of the girl's death by his friend, Luke. The rumors were spread mostly by the girl's father. Aaron's father decided it was best if they moved elsewhere rather than try to fight small-town rumormongers. Twenty years later, the girl's father and her cousin still live there and they are still spreading rumors.

The town that Aaron returns to has been enduring the worst drought in Australian recorded history for the last two years. The countryside is a tinderbox. Many farmers are destroying their animals because they can't provide food and water for them. The town itself seems to be dying. Harper describes the parched and desiccated landscape so realistically that the reader can taste the dust and feel the heat of the unrelenting sun.

The other characters in the town are described in such vivid terms that we feel we have met them. Aaron himself is a bit of an enigma; he's smart, a loner with secrets, and he can find his way around financial records and that's where he starts his investigation. Luke's wife had handled the finances of the local school and so he reviews her records, hoping to find a clue that might explain what had happened. In the end, he finds a lot more than he bargained for. 

Harper's debut novel made for propulsive reading. It was a fast read because it was so hard to put down. There was a sinister sense of foreboding and I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. Best of all, she hid her perpetrator in plain sight and I didn't figure out whodunit until near the end. 

This didn't really have the feel of a first novel at all; it was a very accomplished effort. The strongest part of the novel for me was the writer's descriptions of the setting. I got thirsty just reading it. Moreover, her descriptions of the characters and the construction of the plot were just spot on. In fact, I have no criticism to make of the book. I don't see how it could have been made any better.

This was apparently the first book in a series that will be featuring Aaron Falk. I look forward to reading more and getting to know this charismatic and somewhat mysterious character better.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 





Comments

  1. Glad you liked this one. I've finished her 3 books ... and perhaps liked this one the best but they're all worth exploring; her setting of the drought mixed with the story were well done in this one. Here are my thoughts on The Dry: https://www.thecuecard.com/books/the-dry-and-benediction/

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    1. Thanks for the link. I'll check it out. I have Force of Nature in my reading queue and I'm looking forward to it.

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  2. I would like to explore Jane Harper. Yesterday I entered the world of Don Winslow and I expect to stay there for a while, but with both you and Susan, among many others, giving this one such praise, Harper will stay on my list.

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    1. I think you'll find the Harper world engrossing.

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  3. Another great review!!! I'm always impressed by the quantity of books you read and the fact you can churn out high quality reviews so quickly!!

    The Dry by Jane Harper is on my reading wishlist.

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    1. You are very kind. I hope you enjoy The Dry and I think you will.

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  4. This sounds good. Stories of people returning home after a long time and facing old ghosts are fairly common. However, I find that such stories can be very appealing in the hands of a great of writer.

    Have fun with the rest of the series.

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  5. Hello, it's Tina in Florida. I also loved The Dry and her other books are great too. I especially liked the third book, Lost Man. Love your review.
    I'm surfing in from Carole's Chatter.

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    1. I'm so glad you stopped by Tina. Lost Man is my favorite so far. I'm looking forward to her next book which I think comes out this fall.

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