First Sentence: It wasn't as though the farm hadn't seen death before, and the blowflies didn't discriminate.
Twenty years ago, Aaron Falk had been accused of murder. He was released due to the alibi provided for him by his childhood friend Luke. Still, Aaron and his father left their hometown. Now a Federal Agent, Aaron has returned for Luke's funeral. Luke's mother doesn't believe Luke committed suicide and asks Aaron to investigate. Together with Sergeant Raco, the cop new to the town, they work to learn what really happened, while Aaron wants to know who knew his alibi had been a lie.
Harper's use of language truly captures one's attention—"Luke Hadler may have had a light on waiting for him when he came home, but something else from the wretched, desperate community had seeped through that front door and into this home. And it had been rotten and sick and black enough to extinguish that light forever."
Aaron is a character we come to know in pieces. The story of what happened when Luck and Aaron were teens is interspersed within the main story. The alliance and trust he establishes with Raco is interesting and refreshing. it's nice to have a small-town cop who came from a bigger city and so doesn't have a small-town attitude. He's willing to question the alleged facts, to admit he doesn't know the area, and to work with someone else who does. It is through Raco's wife, quite late in the story, that we finally learn his background.
Harper creates a very strong sense of place. That Australia is suffering a terrible drought is illustrated in several ways, each effectively focusing on a different aspect; animals, vegetation, farmers, the children, --"The huge river was nothing more than a dusty scar in the land." A simple, but very accurate statement is why business and communities die rings true no matter the location—"That's the thing about money problems. They're contagious, Farmers have no cash to spend in shops, the shops go under, and then you've got yourself more people with no month to spend in shops."
The menace to Falk is turned up very effectively, as are the realities and drawbacks of living in a small, insular community—"'Christ, it's like Deliverance round here sometimes,' Whitlam said." To learn an important piece of information about one character which is provided by another is such an effective device. The assessment made is very true—"Death rarely changes how we feel about someone. Heightens it, more often than not."
"The Dry" is filled with very effective twists that one doesn't see coming even though Harper plays completely fair with the readers. Secrets; everyone has secrets, but secrets will out and Harper does an excellent job of exposing them all. What an excellent debut.
THE DRY (Pol Proc-Aaron Falk-Kuwarra, Australia-Contemp) – Ex
Harper, Jane – 1st in seriesFlatiron Books – July 2017