The Dry by Australian author Jane Harper came to my attention via a review by Fiction Fan, who often bears the responsibility for adding to my list of ‘want to reads,’ but over the past months I’ve seen this book everywhere; people are reading it on the train, there are displays in bookshops and interviews with the author in the newspapers. Most excitingly, when I picked up the Dymocks Top 101 booklist for 2017, I spotted the title at #17.
The Dry is set in Kiewarra, a fictional Victorian farming community. My guess is that Kiewarra is based on a Mallee district, maybe Kerang, or Ouyen, where the bakery is famous for their Vanilla Slice. Families up that way have owned their land for generations and they do it tough during droughts. In this story, the whole community is struggling financially and emotionally because of drought.
The Dry starts with the tragic death of three people in a family. On the surface, it appears that Luke Hadler shot his wife and primary school aged son before shooting himself because he couldn’t cope with the prospect of losing of the family farm. Luke’s baby daughter was spared and later found in the house, howling her little head off.
Aaron Falk was Luke’s friend when they were growing up and he returns to Kiewarra from Melbourne for the funeral. Falk is now an investigator with the Australian Federal Police, but as a teenager, he and his father were forced to leave town after the death of a girl whom he and Luke had been friends with.
When Falk is asked by Luke’s parents to investigate the murder-suicide he agrees reluctantly. Most of the people of Kiewarra remember him and the circumstances of him leaving town, and he is harassed and threatened by many of the townspeople, including the girl’s father and cousin.
Despite the harassment, Falk sticks around and teams up with the local copper, Sergeant Raco, who has also been poking about on the Hadler farm. Raco is a good bloke, happily married with a baby on the way and he is smart enough to have noticed irregularities in the case. Raco is also an outsider in Kiewarra but he knows enough about the dynamics of small towns to make the locals toe the line.
As Falk and Raco investigate the deaths, further mysteries arise about the death of the girl all of those years ago, particularly about Luke’s possible involvement.
The language in this book is spot-on, although Australians swear a lot more than this book would suggest. The evocative details which gave the story an Australian feel were also beautifully done, although I could have done without the image of the huntsman crawling around Falk’s hotel room; as an arachnophobe, I would have killed the spider with my shoe on its first appearance.
The country-town atmosphere also felt rang true. Everyone in Kiewarra knew most of their neighbours’ business and were quick to judge each other. They ignored issues which should have been addressed when they were afraid of their own livelihoods being harmed, but they also rallied around each other in ways which doesn’t happen in the city, where a person or family can be as anonymous as they want to be.
I have to admit that I had a feeling about how this story would end and was very excited when I was proved right. This did not spoil my enjoyment of the story in any way and I strongly recommend The Dry to others.
Force of Nature is the next book by this author featuring Aaron Falk and I cannot wait to read it.