The Dry is a very worthy winner of the 2017 Independent Booksellers Award. Jane Harper’s award-winning debut is a murder mystery set in Kiewarra, a small country town in Victoria, during the height of a severe drought. Crops and animals are dying, the river has run dry, shops are closing down, farmers are under enormous financial pressure, and people are generally ‘not themselves’ – the tension between the townsfolk is palpable.
Against this backdrop, Federal Police Investigator Aaron Falk arrives in town, to attend the joint funeral of his childhood friend, Luke Hadler, and Luke’s wife and young son. It’s an assumed suicide-murder, apparently motivated by financial ruin. But Luke’s parents are not so sure – it seems so out-of-character for their son – and so they ask Aaron to investigate further.
For Aaron, this means delaying his return to Melbourne, and suffering through a few more days in Kiewarra – a place he hasn’t visited since he and his father were driven out of town many years ago, for his rumoured involvement in the disappearance of a teenage girl. But as Aaron soon discovers, he’s not the only one in town whose life isn’t as it seems. And he’s not the only one keeping a secret.
I’d highly recommend The Dry, both for its gripping plot, and its beautiful, rich language. Reading Harper’s opening lines, you’ll be transported immediately into the midst of a desolate, parched landscape. “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 drought had left the flies spoiled for choice that summer. They sought out unblinking eyes and sticky wounds as the farmers of Kiewarra levelled their rifles at skinny livestock. No rain meant no feed. And no feed made for difficult decisions, as the tiny town shimmered under day after day of burning blue sky”.
For those who’ve read Goodwood, it’s impossible not to compare the two novels. It’s actually quite bizarre that these debuts were published within such a short space of time, and shared such similarities: both involved murder mysteries; they were set in small Australian towns; and featured the disappearance of a young girl who had a troubled relationship with her father/stepfather. But I definitely felt The Dry was a far more sophisticated piece of writing, with a tighter plot line, beautiful writing, and a manageable cast of interesting characters (unlike Goodwood, with too many people to keep track of). This is definitely a book to add to your reading list…after all, there’s a reason why The Dry currently has a wait list of 54 people at the Hawthorn library!