The Dry is not your average whodunnit. Australian crime fiction at its best, it paints a startlingly detailed (and some might say accurate) picture of small Outback towns struggling through the challenges posed by Australia’s harsh highly changeable climate and day to day life.
The story follows a meandering path ( much like the dry riverbed at the heart of the town – a focal point in the plot) through the life of federal police agent Aaron Falk and the small rural Australian town where he grew up that is in the throes of the worst drought on record. Falk returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of a childhood friend, Luke Hadler, who we discover is suspected of murdering his family before turning his gun on himself. Falk finds himself drawn into unofficially investigating the case at the request of Luke’s parents, and like any good crime novel, things are not what they seem.
This mystery is closely interwoven with a mystery from Aaron and Luke’s past. Vignettes to the past slowly unravel both the present and past mysteries in a slowly filling in pieces of the puzzle, although as we discover, there’s always a new to be found.
The story is chock full of irony and oh so many twists. There is irony in that escaping urban sprawl for a sea change or tree change often leaves the escapees finding themselves left with nowhere to run. That wide open spaces can be as equally oppressive as packed as a high density city-scape. And, there is very much a lesson in the fact that when we try to run from our problems, they almost always find a way to catch up with us.
A debut novel for Melbourne author Jane harper, this is an incredible achievement for one of Australia’s rising literary talents. Indeed, it has made the world sit up an take notice with international distribution deals for the book in the works and interest for a film from Reese Witherspoon’s production company.
If there is a criticism of this novel, it is that some of the characters fall a little bit flat. Especially our “hero” who despite his apparent mysterious background and seemingly fascinating job as a federal ppolice agent, seems a bit too one dimensional. The focus seems to be on the juxtaposition of the landscape with the constantly evolving mysteries unravelling across time and space. Some character development would have added a richer and more fascinating dimension to the novel. The novel is definitely a page turner however – easy to sink into and hard to put down. We look forward to the next big thing from Jane Harper.