THE DRY, by Jane Harper
Jane Harper’s debut novel, THE DRY, is a murder mystery set in present day rural Australia. Aaron Falk, now a federal agent, returns to the town where he had grown up to attend the funerals of his former friend who has been accused of murder-suicide of his wife and young son. He resolves to pay his respects at the behest of the victim’s father but the decision is fraught with trepidation as he and his father were unceremoniously run out of town two decades earlier under a cloud of suspicion for the death of a teenage classmate Falk was infatuated with. Unsurprisingly, Falk agrees to assist the current law official in taking a closer look at what originally appeared to be an open and shut case. Present and past dialogues (defined by different fonts) run concurrently throughout the text finally revealing a clever twist to both the current tragedy and the one from years back. Aside from the well-rounded human characters the author has created, place becomes the defining character in THE DRY. The present-day stagnating small-town parochialism is drawn in sharp contrast with the pleasant memories from Falk’s childhood in this small remote town. Throughout the novel, the atmosphere of place is cleverly woven into the storyline…in fact the crushing dryness and oppressive heat from an unrelenting drought plays an integral part in the story’s penultimate scene. This is a well-written mystery and Harper has the enviable ability to evoke the emotional vertigo her character experiences when he revisits a place from another time in his life. We have all had the strange sensation of finding our present self in a place of our past and while some things change, it’s unsettling to think it’s probably us!