A small farming town in south-eastern Australia suffering from one of its worst recorded droughts, its townspeople desperate to survive and still feeding off speculation and suspicion; what looks like a double murder-suicide stirring up memories of another tragic event some twenty years previously; and a returning police detective, former best friend to the dead man, all combine to make up Jane Harper’s riveting debut novel, The Dry, out later this week.
I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.
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.
Sometimes when you read a novel’s prologue, it makes little sense until you reach the end of the book; elsewhere, it feels superfluous or a cheat, a way to pitch you into the story before retreating to more prosaic backstory in the first few chapters. None of these is the case with the memorable prologue for The Dry: it quickly sets the scene and situation in a few hard-hitting and effective lines, and behaves more like a heads-up to the reader. Pay attention, it says, you’re going to need to keep up because I’m not going to repeat myself or waste words or time and you’ll need your wits about you for this one. In the space of a page, you feel the heat of the drought, the farmers’ desperation, the sense that here is a town and its people brought to the brink, evidenced by the grim aftermath of an apparent double murder-suicide.
Full of the atmosphere of its small-town Australian setting, where there’s been no rain for the past two years, and the detail of small town life, with all the claustrophobic relationships, petty jealousies, gossip and mob rule which that entails, The Dry is as all-consuming as the drought which threatens to destroy the town and people’s livelihoods. Aaron Falk’s return to his childhood hometown disturbs not only his own fragile equilibrium, when he reluctantly turns up at the funeral of his childhood best friend and half-recognises faces from that time, but also that of the townspeople. Both are further shaken when he’s persuaded to stay on for a few days to help look into the deaths. Alongside fresh doubt and accusing looks, old animosities and suspicions resurface, cleverly wrapping the recent deaths in the mystery of one that is decades old. Whether that helps or hinders Falk’s investigation, and that of the local policeman, Raco, I’ll leave to you to discover but it makes The Dry all the more satisfying that it has not one, but two cases, for the detectives and, more importantly, the reader to solve.
It’s a rare book these days where I don’t know who did it (and sometimes why) long before those investigating come to the same conclusion but The Dry is one such book, and that’s all credit to Jane Harper’s wonderful writing and on point pacing. She keeps the story moving through the inexorable heat of this drought-stricken township, so well that this reader swears she could taste the dust and dryness at times, while Harper sprinkles each new piece of the puzzle throughout The Dry like the first tentative drops of its much longed-for rain.
The Dry is a formidable first novel and one that sparked my interest right from its opening lines and held it all the way to the end; it scorches and flares with life and heat in a way you hope the dry bush around Kiewarra never does. An atmospheric novel of mystery and suspense, that licks along at a cracking pace, this is the debut of an Australian writer to watch but, above all, to read and savour. Not to be missed.
The Dry is Jane Harper’s debut novel and it is published by Little, Brown in the UK. It’s available as an ebook, an audiobook and in hardback from 12th January. You can buy it from Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop) and Waterstones. You can find out more about The Dry and its author on Jane Harper’s Author Website or on Twitter. The blog tour #TheDry continues for the rest of the week. Below are all the blogs taking part today: to find more, search #TheDry Blog Tour hashtag on Twitter.