The Dry by Jane Harper

Aaron Falk left his home town, a small farming village five hours from Melbourne, Australia, when he was a teenager. He had no intention of returning but when the father of his childhood friend, Luke, beckons him to Luke’s funeral, Aaron cannot refuse. Luke apparently murdered his own wife and son before turning the shotgun on himself. The drought has everyone in KieWarra on edge but could it have turned Luke into a murderer? Aaron is skeptical, even if he never really knew where Luke was when their friend, Ellie, drowned in the river so many years ago. Falk, a federal detective who normally works financial cases, reluctantly returns to KieWarra where he is mostly not welcome and plans to leave as soon as he can until Sergeant Greg Raco expresses doubt in what appears to be an obvious murder/suicide. Some of the details just don’t fit.

Jane Harper’s debut novel is atmospheric, tense, and expertly plotted with seemingly unexplained details neatly and believably made clear later in the storyline. Told mainly from Falk’s point of view, the author also inserts flashbacks in limited third person from other characters’ viewpoints, revealing prior conversations that may or may not be relevant or reliable.

The novel explores many issues for discussion – the effects of doubt and false accusations, a small town in decline, and human nature, to name a few. Harper ably illustrates how difficult it must be for law enforcement to keep an open mind and consider alternatives when circumstantial evidence all points to a single conclusion. Suspicion shifts from one character to another and even “the dry” of the land plays a significant role. She conveys a believable male perspective in a setting that could easily be a small farming town in America. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy murder mysteries with flawed but relatable characters and intricate plotting.

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