Review: “The Dry” by Jane Harper

thedryTitle: “The Dry”
Author: Jane Harper
Genre: Mystery, crime
Publication Date: Jan. 10, 2017 (Macmillan Australia)

My Rating: ★★★★☆

Mate, you tell me this was a bloody debut novel, and I’ll tell you to bugger off …. you arse.

Sorry. Hi. I’m infinitely charmed by the Australian lingo in “The Dry,” but even more impressed that this is Harper’s first book. She’s a longtime journalist who wrote the book with no expectation that it would ever be widely read — then won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2015. (It seems she learned to write fiction via a literary agency’s online writing course. Must have been one heck of a course!)

I’m tempted to give “The Dry” 5 stars, because writing-wise, it deserves it. It’s beautifully written and captures the atmosphere of drought-ridden Kiewarra, a despairing rural Australian farming town, perfectly. I can picture the town, with its now-dry river and empty, bleak Main Street, vividly. Harper’s words transported me, dropping me into this land and giving me a sense of place and of being there that I don’t experience with many books.

The story centers around Aaron Falk, who was driven out of Kiewarra 20 years ago and is now a federal agent on the money side of things in Melbourne. He goes home — for 18 hours, which is 18 too many — to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler, who has apparently killed himself, his wife and his son.

“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.”

Did Luke really do it, though? Was a desperate time in a ruined town enough to push him over the edge?

And are the murders linked to what happened to Ellie Deacon — Luke and Falk’s friend who was found drowned in the river all those years ago? It’s the reason Falk was run out of town and never came back, and the town still thinks he had something to do with her death.

As a favor to Luke’s grieving parents, Falk joins forces with Sergeant Raco, the local cop and one of the only folks in town who has doubts that Luke killed his family. The telling of their investigation moves slowly, and more than a few times, I wished things would hurry up already. I can finish a book in two or three days, but this one took over a week because it felt so slow at parts. That’s the only reason I dock a star here — there were chapters that were a little too “dry” (sorry) for my taste, and Harper could have shaved a chunk of pages without hurting the story. Still, I appreciate the depth and development they helped create.

There’s a film to come; rights have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Pacific Standard. And we have Aaron Falk #2 to look forward to; apparently, it’s called “Force of Nature” and will be out Jan. 16, 2018. (Too long! I want it now!) I liked Falk a lot — he’s a good bloke — so I’m looking forward to catching up with him again.

I finished “The Dry” last night, and I woke up still thinking about it this morning. If you require action and excitement on every page, you might not love it. But I’m bloody positive that Harper deserves all the success and buzz she’s seeing worldwide.