Review: The Dry
Author: Jane Harper
Genre: Mystery/ Thriller
Series?: Aaron Falk Series
"In the small town of Kiewarra, it hasn’t rained for two years. Swept up in the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, the town crackles with seething malice and unvoiced grudges. Tensions in the community are at breaking point when three members of the Hadler family are suddenly brutally murdered.
Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty, but is he just an easy scapegoat? 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."
Why You Should Give It A Go:
If you like a good crime thriller, and haven't already been intrigued by the hype around this book, you should definitely give it a go. Plus,the sequel Force of Nature has just been released and has so far received countless praise. Whilst the latter does work as a standalone novel, you will miss out on quite a few references to its predecessor if you haven't read it, as well as a deeper look at the protagonist's personal history. So, if you're a character driven reader or like me, just like to begin at the start, I'd give The Dry a go!
It follows policeman Aaron Falk as he returns to his hometown for Luke's funeral. Struggling to reconcile the friend he knew with the man who killed his family, he begins to investigate what happened 'that night' and how it links to an old secret that drove him out of town years ago.
This has everything you need for a good "whodunnit". It has plenty of drama and suspense, intensified by the relentless Australian heat. Harper keeps the reader guessing up to its conclusion, unsure of Aaron's involvement with this case and how much his past has to do with the events of the present. Flashbacks are woven into the text excellently, as Harper expertly controls how and when the reader learns more.
This was one of the first books I read for pleasure after finishing university and it was exactly what I needed to get me back in to it. It was exciting, imaginatively written with unexpected twists but a satisfying conclusion.
*WARNING: Spoilers below!
The Good Bits
My favourite thing about this book is that it kept me guessing at the murderer's identity right up until it was revealed. Normally, I have at least an inkling, but in this case I was genuinely convinced it was Raco, his partner, and failing that, Gretchen. I am so glad this was not the case as the partner/lover revealed as murderer idea is one used so often. Whitlam's character was integral enough to the plot to be a justifiable culprit; his involvement wasn't forced into the narrative only to justify the big reveal, but flowed naturally. I also think Harper was clever in disguising him behind the role of headteacher. We often give people in a position of power and responsibility an unwarranted amount of trust, and I think that is partly why Whitlam wasn't an obvious suspect.
But the real star of this book is the setting. The descriptive language Harper uses drew me in completely; I could almost feel the heat of the Australian drought constricting my chest, as well as the anxiety that dominated the novel's atmosphere. Harper's opening page captures this and hooked me straight away.
"It wasn't as though the farm hadn't seen death before, and the blowflies didn't discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse."
I was also glad when the weather came to play a more active role in the narrative. The scene where Whitlam is holding out the lighter is interwoven with suspense; I read this part holding my breath, hoping that the ending didn't involve the whole town being devoured by wildfire. The underlying threat of the heat that makes this novel and dominates its atmosphere becomes tangible and thus symbolic of how quickly and easily Whitlam spiralled.
The Bad Bits
The only thing that did bother me about the plot is the convenience of Aaron Falk's career and involvement in the crime. He just happened to be a financial expert, which coincidentally was the motive behind the murders. But, if you can accept this as a happy coincidence, it doesn't impact your enjoyment of the book at all. Also, I thought that on occasion, the constant flashbacks detracted from the progression of the plot. It slowed down the reading and sometimes felt like they were dampening the excitement of the main story. Yet these were exceptions, and overall the two mysteries were interwoven excellently.
Plus, whilst I was glad that what happened to Ellie was revealed, I did think that it was a bit of an easy option for Aaron to just find her diary that has all the answers we needed. It just seemed to me a bit of an afterthought once the main plot had been resolved. But then I really liked that we had to chance to hear the story from Ellie's point of view; it gave us an opinion on her character that wasn't just based upon the other living character's memories. By getting to know her and then losing her in such a short moment, it highlighted to me the tragedy in her life and death and gave me a much more personal connection to the character. So all things considered, maybe Harper knew what she was doing by making this decision.
Overall, I thought this was a very satisfying and exciting read. The new setting was refreshing and put a spin on the normal thriller narrative. I loved the mysteries and the unpredictable conclusions that kept me guessing right up until the end.
What did you think of The Dry? Let me know in the comments below!