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The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry is the debut novel by Australian writer Jane Harper.  Set in Australia, it's an expertly written mystery that doubles as a tense coming home novel.  Compared to the last book I read, Everything We Keep, The Dry features much stronger, organic writing.

When his childhood friend, Luke Hadler, butchers his family and then kills himself, Aaron Falk, now a successful federal agent, returns to the rural, farming town that literally ran him and his father out in the middle of the night over a decade ago.  Aaron is determined to stay for the funerals and be gone the next morning.  Meanwhile, the only people welcoming him home are the parents of his deceased friend Luke and his childhood friend, Gretchen, who is now a mother herself.  The whole town, save for the handful of residents who have moved there in the interim since the Falks departure, makes it clear that Falk is not welcome and regards him askance while the Deacon family openly regards him with hostility, only too happy to pick up where they left off harassing him all those years ago.

You see, Falk and his father were harassed (with rumors, dead animals turning up on their porch, strange men following Aaron home from school...) and chased out of town in the wake of the disappearance and subsequent suspicious death of Ellie Deacon, a childhood friend of both Aaron and Luke.  Now years later the newly assigned local police constable, Sgt. Raco, has questions regarding the deaths of Luke and his family.  Specifically the constable keeps bumping up against details that call into question the suicide portion of the murder-suicide and instead point to all three Hadler family members being murdered.  So Falk, reluctantly and against his better judgment, agrees to stay in town for a week to assist Raco in an off-the-books investigation into the Hadler deaths.

Falk feels a debt of gratitude toward his friend because all those years ago Luke offered up an alibi for Falk for Ellie's death.  And while Falk knew where he was (which was nowhere near where Ellie drowned in the river), what he was doing, and that he didn't kill Ellie, the same cannot be said of Luke.  Luke steadfastly stood by Falk and the false alibi he gave him and just as steadfastly refused to reveal his own whereabouts that day.

Falk's presence in town is a powder keg threatening to ignite the small, rural community slowly dying due to the years long drought that has been strangling local farms and businesses.  The drought has touched every resident of this community.  The oppressive heat and devastating drought become like characters in this story.  And both the heat and the drought are integral to the story as they exacerbate tensions in a frightened community struggling to survive.

Some thoughts I had (I always have some):

By the time Falk's car is vandalized, I'm ready to burn Kiewarra to the ground.  Burn. It. Down.  Gretchen, Raco, that bartender, the principal, and the Hadlers get forewarning to skedaddle before I strike the match, but that's it.  (Okay, maybe I will still give Gretchen forewarning.)  And if you think a podunk, rural, Australian town can't be burned to the ground, then watch the end of The Dressmaker (which features another town that needs burning).

When Jamie Sullivan is all, 'you think I'm sleeping with someone's wife?  I wasn't with anyone.'  It is obvious (to me but apparently not our seasoned detectives) he means, 'I wasn't with a woman.'  Because 'what's worse than being fingered for a triple murder' in Kiewarra?  Coming out as gay.  Duh.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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