“The Dry” – The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017 – by Jane Harper: The cost of even white lies

This is my review of The Dry: The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017 by Jane Harper.

When Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns after an absence of twenty years to his now drought-stricken former hometown of Kiewarra in the Australian outback, for the grim duty of attending a triple funeral, he is soon sucked into seeking proof that, despite the initial evidence, Luke Hadler, his onetime best friend, is himself a murder victim and not guilty of killing his wife and son.

Aaron’s investigations are obstructed by the widespread hostility of a closeknit, inward-looking community, in which old memories and prejudices soon surface over another suspicious death, the drowning of Ellie Deacon, which eventually drove Aaron and his father out of town two decades earlier. Who is in any way responsible for these deaths, and how may they be linked?

This well-constructed page turner, which lends itself to adaptation as a film, gradually reveals details through effective use of flashbacks – except perhaps at the end – and develops the main characters as for the most part convincing, flawed individuals prone to guilt, resentment, regret, the desire to control or revenge, suffering the consequences of missed opportunites and fateful coincidences. The unresolved collapse of trust between Aaron and his father is particularly poignant. Least satisfactory in that they lack any redeeming features are the Hadler family’s venomous neighbour, Mal Deacon and his boorish nephew Grant Dow.

The novel seems to be the product of a creative writing course with gruesome hook in the prologue and build-up to highly dramatic at the cost of plausibility climax. There are a few glitches in the editing. I found the final loose-ends tying chapter a little disappointing, but there is no denying that this is an exceptional debut novel and a cut above the average crime thriller because of its psychological depth and chain of clues and plot which “holds water”. I was very struck by the sense of place – the isolation of farmhouses where one could very understandably be driven mad, the oppressive heat and intensity of the drought captured by Falk’s realisation that the missing sound in the landscape is that of the once sizeable river of his boyhood, now completely dry so that one is made to feels guilt over the use of water to clean one’s teeth. The acute dryness is even made critical to the climax of the drama.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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