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Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

Set in a parched Australian landscape, Jane Harper's The Dry is a real page turner of a crime novel. Much was made of the fact that this was a debut novel, coming from a writer who worked on the book while taking a creative writing course. It's been a massive success, and has turned heads not only in the land down under, but worldwide - it was a Radio 2 Book Choice, named the CWA Golden Dagger Book of the Year, named the Sunday Times Book of the Year for 2017 and is currently optioned for a major film , with none other than  Reese Witherspoon attached to the project. The latest news is that the movie will start filming early next year. And before all that it won the Victorian Premier Literary Award for An Unpublished Manuscript.

One of the many strengths of the novel is that it so effectively creates a sense of place, which gives it a lot in common with the Nordic noirs which are so popular with readers, though where the abiding image of Nordic thrillers are the  desolate snowscapes, Harper's book operates in the polar opposite. It's Outback noir and the parched desolate landscape of the book goes a long way in creating a sense of dread. The land is dying before our eyes, people are living in a state of poverty and hopelessness so it is no wonder that violence soon flares up.

The novel opens with a swarm of blowflies swarming around the bodies of a mother and son, who were butchered in their own home in a seemingly straight forward murder/suicide. Luke Hadler, driven mad by years of drought seems to have shot both his wife and son before turning the gun on himself.

Melbourne based policeman, Aaron Falk spent his childhood in the town of Kiewarra but he and his father had to leave town after the death of a young girl - actually, they were driven out of town when suspicion regarding the young girl's death fell on Aaron. And now years later Aaron returns to the town for the funeral of Luke and his family and becomes involved in an unofficial investigation into the so called murder/suicide. Why for instance did Luke, assuming he saw a hopeless future for himself and his family not kill his infant daughter before turning the gun on himself? Why just his wife and young son?

Falk teams up with local policeman, Sergeant Raco (as likable a character as you can meet in crime fiction) and together the duo start investigating. At the start of the book there is doubt sown in the reader's mind over the involvement Falk may have played in the death of the young girl all those years ago, and this story in a secondary mystery that runs alongside the main storyline. I've called the book Outback Noir, as to some extent it is but this is basically a crime novel in the classic style with a myriad of twists and turns to throw the reader before the thrilling and logical conclusion plays out.

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