Ok I know I’m a little late to the party with my reading of this one, which is more or less unforgivable given all the accolades this crime fiction book was given at the time of publication, but I admit it, I was wrong and it should have been a prioritised read far earlier on.
After all despite my preference for a good police procedural set in the UK where I understand the rules and behaviours Now I have read The Dry I have to agree that there are far worse places to set your novel than Australia. This is particularly true of course if like Jane Harper you live in Melbourne. It is a credit to the quality of her writing that this book got optioned in so many territories from the off.
So I started the book and quickly got immersed in an outback town in the middle of a drought (not a minor one with a few weeks of no rain, but a sustained amount of heat and no rain at all) was overtaken by the murder/suicide of a farmer and his family. All the anger and worry in Kiewarra previously without a physical outlet is focussed on this tragedy. So the story starts and we have a killer sentence:
“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.”
The local policeman, Roco is investigating while Aaron Falk, a friend of the suspected perpetrator, Luke Hadler, is using his leave to help Luke’s father, unofficially. The problem is that years before Aaron Falk and his father had to leave town over suspicions that he was involved in the death of his friend, Ellie. Luke and Aaron had an alibi but that didn’t stop people talking, and believe me, this was no low-level grumbling. So Aaron is back to investigate what happened at his old friend’s farm and he can’t quite believe that his friend would have committed such an atrocity but are events from the past clouding his judgement.
“And yes, he battled the daily commute to work and spent a lot of his days under fluorescent office lights, but at least his livelihood didn’t hang by a thread on the whim of a weather pattern. At least he wasn’t driven to such fear and despair by the blank skies that there was even a chance the wrong end of a gun might look like the right answer.”
Now once again the book absolutely checks my preference for crime fiction having elements from the past intersecting with those in the present. And the mystery of what happened to Ellie looms larger the longer Aaron stays in Kiewarra.
You could say two solid mysteries, well-plotted and convoluted enough to keep the keenest of minds working on their theories is enough for an author but Jane Harper’s real skill is bringing the characters to life. Now you may not like them all but you won’t forget many of them, I can assure you of that. The characters alongside the town (which is almost a character in its own right) give the story an oppressive feel which is underlined by episodes from the past being placed throughout the book, the distinction being marked by italics and tense. Much later we hear from Ellie herself which gives us a three-sided view of life, and death.
This is a superb novel and of course I know that there is a second in the series called Force of Nature. Since I can assure you this isn’t one of those frustrating books that leaves on a cliff-hanger, I’m not quite sure how that one can possibly play out (I’ve resisted looking at the synopsis) but I am very sure that the quality of Jane Harper’s writing means that I can’t afford to miss out.
“Death rarely changes how we feel about someone. Heightens it, more often than not.”
I’m so very pleased that I chose this book to be the eighth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge, I shouldn’t have left it quite so long!