Review: ‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper – Throw another spree killer on the barbie

When should you read this book? When it’s grey and miserable – reading ‘The Dry’ makes your brain instantly think it’s too hot. Like a sun bed for the soul.

The Dry is the first in what promises to be a series of novels featuring Aaron Falk, our Federal Agent hero.

In this one, he returns to his not-so-sweet home after tragedy draws him back. Luke, his best friend from his teenage years, has murdered his wife and son before turning the shotgun on himself. But can this really be the same kid he knew growing up?

Bucking the genre

I won’t lie – there is such a vast number of books with front covers and intriguing captions like The Dry that I nearly didn’t pick it up.

Based on the cover I was expecting: Nasty serial killer chops people up. Dashing detective arrives, playing deadly cat and mouse game with serial chopper. Eventually after placing his own life in the balance several times and nearly getting fingers/toes/beloved wife’s head chopped off, dashing detective finds and detains serial killer (applause).

Like so many others.

The Dry is, pleasingly, not that book.

While it certainly takes cues from that genre (particularly the grim, fly -infested opening scene), the plot has much more to do with Falk’s personal relationship with the town’s inhabitants.

There’s also unfinished business waiting for our hero in this town, in the form of the unsolved death of another of his childhood friends. 

In short, he isn’t just another bobby parachuted in to solve a murder. The novel is equally about his own past, which makes it far more interesting. 

Plus, it’s set in Australia, a pleasingly different ambience from the usual grime encrusted inner city streets where chopped up limbs are usually discovered.

Detective-not-detective

Aaron Falk is not a detective, or at least not in the sense that one usually finds in murder mysteries. He investigates financial fraud. And he is pale and ginger.

Hercule Poirot he is not. However he’s probably more endearing for it.

Similarly, given that the local cop shop is pretty incompetent except for one policeman (now sidekick/best buddy), the usual line-up of Detective Inspectors is also missing.

The whole investigation screams ‘small town’ – messy, reliant on things overheard in the local dive bar, and involving everyone from the local soccer moms to rival farmers. Therein lies its difference, and its brilliance.

It’s pretty hot

The one thing this novel really succeeds at is building an atmosphere. From the beginning, Harper puts the characters in a greenhouse. Never has the phrase ‘oppressive heat’ been put to better use than in The Dry.

There are lots of uses for the climate here – from helping to characterise the prickly (guilt-induced?) sweatiness of the townsfolk, to providing a nice metaphor in Falk’s discovery that the river his friends loved so dearly in their wayward youth has dried up.

The lifeblood of the town has vanished, the people he knew from school wilting in the heat as they refuse to leave a town that is shrivelling before their eyes.

Who-actually-dunnit?

Guys, I guessed. But I was possibly 75% of the way in before I did, and I kept reading to find out if I was right.

Is a book better or worse if you can guess whodunnit?

I tend to think it’s better if there’s such a magnificent twist at the end that you drop the book and your brain melts out of your ears.

But it’s also kind of satisfying to guess it right.

Overall maybe The Dry suffers a bit from being so clearly marketed as a ‘nasty killer chops up nice family’ kind of novel. It’s really a bit more than that, and should be in the crime drama section as far as I’m concerned, without a huge Harlan Coben-eque caption on the front.

But what really elevates this novel is the atmosphere Harper creates. As far as I’m concerned, that’s totally unique, and for that reason I’ve bumped The Dry up to a…

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I’m very curious to read Aaran Falk #2 – I wonder how Harper will make it as personal a story as the first…

Pick up The Dry on Amazon

Next up, Tangerine by Christine Mangan!

 

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