2016 Reviews · Australian · thriller

Book review: The Dry by Jane Harper

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Book blurb:


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 are reopened. 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 …

5 stars

I had one of those jaw dropping moments when I read the prologue of The Dry, by debut Australian novelist Jane Harper.  The pit of my stomach was literally in twists as I read about an abandoned baby found crying in her cot, the blood, the suicide of a farmer and the brutal death of his wife and six year old son Billy. It truly is the stuff of nightmares, but somewhere beyond this horrific scene, the reader seeks to understand how and why this happened. So too does Aaron Falk, childhood friend of the deceased farmer, Luke Hadler. Aaron left the small town of Kiewarra and his childhood friends over twenty years ago, as fingers were pointed to Aaron’s connection to the death of a local school mate. Although Aaron vowed never to return to the place that held painful memories, he cannot but help but pay his respects to an old mate. When Luke’s parents approach Aaron, who is now an Australian federal police officer, with their misgivings over the fact that their son both killed himself and most of his family, Aaron steps in to further investigate the case.

I have to agree with the high praise The Dry has received from the two very well known authors who endorsed the cover this book. I can also see exactly why The Dry was chosen as the 2015 winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. Since The Dry won this prestigious award, it has also attracted a publishing bidding war, secured film rights and is to be published in over 20 countries. Not a bad achievement for a debut novelist! Jane Harper has done an excellent job at pitching Australian fiction and crime fiction to the worldwide readership with her novel The Dry. Why is this novel so good? Well much lies in the expert joining of authentic and compelling characters, with an intricate plot and a past/present storyline dichotomy that it just clicks together succinctly. The prologue hooks you into the storyline immediately, it is so harrowing. The setting is treated with a keen sense of understanding about the unforgiving and relentless nature of drought. Harper also explores the impacts drought has on the people and the land in these desolate areas of Australia. All my senses were ignited as Harper explained the level of heat, dust and utter despair. Harper also highlights the realities of small town country life, rife with small town gossip, the unspoken rules of living in these towns and the pure isolation. The plot is characterised by refined and clever writing, the pacing was perfect, especially when the momentum revved up towards the end of the novel. I read The Dry in a day, as I was unable to put it down and when I tried to I just had to find a way to get back to it again! The Dry had me guessing and second guessing throughout and I certainly didn’t pick the final outcome.

The Dry is definitely worthy in my eyes as being the best Australian crime novel of 2016. I suspect there are more good things to come from talented debut author Jane Harper.

The Dry was released in 2016 by Pan Macmillan Australia


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