Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review of "The Dry" by Jane Harper

The Australian town of Kiewarra is in the midst of a life-sucking drought that's put farmers into dire straits. One landowner, Luke Hadler, is apparently so distraught that he shoots his wife and son, then commits suicide. Luke's boyhood friend, Aaron Falk - who's now a Federal agent in Melbourne - returns to Kiewarra for the funeral. Coming back to town is difficult for Falk because he and his father were driven out 20 years before, following the death of a teenage girl named Ellie Deacon.

Aaron Falk, Luke Hadler, and Ellie Deacon - all 16 years old - had been close friends for years when Ellie was found drowned in the river. A note in Ellie's room placed Falk under suspicion, but the boy seemed to have an airtight alibi: He and Luke claimed they were together, shooting rabbits, at the time of the incident. Nevertheless, Ellie's father (Malcolm Deacon) and uncle (Grant Dow), both very violent men, were convinced of Falk's guilt - and they and other townsfolk forced the boy and his dad to move away.

In the present, Falk knows the residents of Kiewarra are still hostile to him - so he plans to stay only long enough to attend the Hadlers' funeral, then hustle back to Melbourne. However Luke's parents - who were very kind to Falk when he was growing up - ask the Federal cop to look into their son's death. They're sure Luke is innocent and want Falk to find the 'real killer.'

When Falk starts to investigate the Hadler killings, a local policeman - Sergeant Greg Raco - admits that he has doubts about Luke's guilt as well. Raco has found some evidence that's incongruous with a murder-suicide scenario. So the two cops team up to 'unofficially' look into the Hadler family deaths. As it turns out, some people in Kiewarra aren't happy about this - especially Malcolm Deacon and Grant Dow - and the shit hits the fan (quite literally.....ha ha ha).

The book alternates between inquiries into the Hadler killings and flashbacks to the past - up to the time Ellie died. Are the two incidents connected? Read the book to find out. LOL

The author does a great job describing the seared landscape of Kiewarra, and I could feel the heat, picture the ravaged fields, and empathize with Falk - who mourned when he saw the dried up river bed. All this is important for the book's finale.

Harper cleverly directs the readers' suspicions to different characters as the story unfolds, and most readers will have trouble guessing who did what.....and why. Some possible clues include: a dead baby rabbit; a teen love triangle; domestic abuse; a mean practical joke; financial chicanery; cryptic notes; CCTV footage; the wrong bullets; and so on.

The book is well-written and suspenseful, and I enjoyed it. The finale was a surprise, but didn't entirely ring true to me. I find it hard to believe that people can keep their cool and maintain their secrets so superbly. Still a very good book. Highly recommended.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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