Review Blog

Jan 04 2017

The dry by Jane Harper

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Macmillan, 2016. ISBN 9781743548059
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Crime, Australian rural life, Drought. Driving to Kiewarra a small town some five hundred kilometers from Melbourne, Aaron Falk argues with himself about why he is going to his friend's funeral. A message from Luke's father tells him that he is aware that he and Luke lied about their whereabouts on the day that Ellie's body was found twenty years ago, and he wants to see him. Aaron, now a forensic police officer, was appalled to hear that Luke had shot and killed his wife and son, then turned the gun on himself. But Luke's family does not believe it and pressures Aaron into staying on to check out the truth.
In this hot, oppressive town, Aaron is someone many people do not want to see. He and his father were hounded from the town after Ellie's death, people deciding that he was the murderer, while Luke stayed on, staring down the gossip.
The drought is obvious: crops just stubble in the fields, the river where Luke and Aaron played, a trail of dust deep in the earth, shops closed in the main street, dilapidated and unkempt farmhouses while the townspeople reflect the hostility of their surroundings. The only life is at the pub, but here the malice directed towards Aaron makes him question why he is here. But Raco, the local policeman shares his misgivings about the murder/suicide story with Aaron, strengthening his belief that he should stay.
Winner of the 2015 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, this debut novel is an absolute must read. The claustrophobic Australian rural landscape is drawn impeccably, its downturn obvious to all, the hope of selling out to an Asian firm the one thing that keeps some going. The heat, dust and gossip invade every page, enlisting the reader's sympathy with the few who believe Aaron.
As in Wake in fright (Kenneth Cook, 1961) the misery of the town is a shock to the outsider as he becomes drawn into its secrets. Violence simmers beneath the surface as Aaron's forensic search through the farm's finances come to a head as he finds that someone has also been checking them. I hope we see more of Aaron Falk.
Fran Knight

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