The Dry, by Jane Harper

Trigger warning for brief depictions of child abuse and assault.

Aaron Falk does not want to go back to his hometown of Kiewarra in the hot, dusty Australian outback. A terrible incident from his teen years and a town’s worth of scorn chanced him and his father away to Melbourne twenty years before The Dry, a series debut by Jane Harper, opens. Aaron is finally pulled back to Kiewarra by perhaps the only thing that could make him return: the sudden, violent death of his best childhood friend. Aaron plans to play his respects and duck out of town as soon as possible. Of course, readers of mystery novels know that Aaron is not going to get the quick exit he wants.

Luke, Aaron’s childhood friend, died in what appears to be a murder-suicide. The crime—which leaves Luke, his wife, and very young son but spares his infant daughter—is a huge shock to everyone in Kiewarra and to Aaron. There were no signs that Luke would do something like this. The investigation that followed didn’t turn up anyone with a motive to kill the family. In the years since he left, Aaron has become a member of Australia’s federal police; he works on financial crimes not violent ones. But Luke’s father, who was like a second father to Aaron, asks Aaron to look at the family’s documents to see if there was something there that might explain the killings. When Aaron tries to demur, Luke’s father reveals that he knows Aaron’s alibi from years ago—when Aaron’s other childhood friend died in the local river with pockets full of stones—is a lie.

The Dry is a highly atmospheric novel. Kiewarra is in the throws of a long drought. Jobs are gone. Money, like the water, has dried up. The town is a place where people are from, not one they go to. Harper’s exposition made me feel like the sun was beating down on my head more than once. I could almost feel the dust in my nose. Against this backdrop, Harper spins out two stories. One details Aaron’s investigation into Luke and his family members’ deaths. Working with the local police officer, Aaron wrestles with the possibility that Luke really did kill his family and himself. The other, composed of flashbacks, shows scenes from Kiewarra twenty years ago. We see Luke and Aaron and their doomed friend, Ellie, as their friendship morphs from childhood camaraderie to uncomfortable teenage attractions.

I listened to The Dry as an audiobook, narrated with a soft Australian accent by Stephen Shanahan. Shanahan did such good work with Harper’s book that The Dry was over almost before I realized. The only part that dragged was the epilogue, in which we finally learn Ellie’s part of the story. Aaron’s case with Luke and his family wraps up in such an explosive manner that the denouement felt, to me, like it went on too long. It was also a big emotional shift from elated survival to grim tragedy. This epilogue was necessary for the overall plot, but it is the only clumsy part of an otherwise successful mystery novel.

2 Comments

  1. I’ve just loaned this to my dad who is rapidly running out of books during the lock down. I’ve made sure he knows I want it back though because it has been recommended by so many bloggers. Are you going to read any of her other books?

    Liked by 1 person

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