YOU GUYS...big news! I have a new favorite author. Obviously, no one will take the place of Stephen King (or Sarah J Maas because I am fantasy trash) BUT….Jane Harper is up there now. I recently finished her debut novel, The Dry and immediately went to Chapters and purchased the second in the series (and the third). So no surprise to you, but I’m here to praise The Dry and ask you to join my church of Harper.
Mystery thrillers are not for everyone. And honestly, current mystery thrillers are not for me. It’s a lot of the same plot - usually a white woman in her late twenties who is a journalist with a drinking problem. Finds herself on some sort of transport and witnesses a murder. No one believes her. Panic entails. And that’s not a slight at the genre, there’s some really good ones out there. But lately I’ve been struggling to get into the genre because of it all seeming very similar.
Enter a library book sale, me picking up an intriguing cover, paying $2 and then letting it sit on my shelf for a year. But recently that cover spoke to me and so I picked it up...and quickly devoured the book in like three days.
Picture True Detective meets Broadchurch. Then put it in Australia.
Here’s the premise, and then I’m diving into spoiler territory. Read the paragraphs below and then go buy the book (or borrow it from the library), then read it, then come yell at me about it.
It’s the dry season in Kiewarra. The drought is destroying farms and killing cattle. This small town is struggling and the townsfolk are feeling it. One afternoon the Hadler family is shot dead. The wife, Karen, lays dead in the hallway, her son Billy in his bedroom. The husband, Luke is dead by suicide in the woods behind the house. The only one left alive is the baby, Charlotte.
The official reasoning is murder suicide. Luke and his family were struggling, their farm was failing, and he took the devastating route out.
Aaron Falk, a police officer in Melbourne, comes home to the town he grew up in to attend the funeral of his childhood best friend Luke, and his murdered family. The two boys had a great childhood until their friend Ellie was found dead in the river. Suicide. Seems to run rampant in Kiewarra. Aaron and his father left the town behind and never looked back.
But now that Aaron is back, he starts to realize this murder suicide may not be as simple as it seems. In fact, it might be that someone murdered Luke and framed him.
Okay….spoiler territory beginning….stay alert!
From page one this book tucks you into its chest and promises you a terrifying tale where everyone is a suspect and lies are running rampant through a small Australian farming town. By page 7 it’s already hooked its claws into you and will not fucking let go. “Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.”
I’m not going to run you through the whole story because honestly it’s quite complex and I wouldn’t do it justice. But I’m going to share with you all the things I loved:
Firstly are the characters. This is a tangled web of characters - everyone in this small town has a secret and they’re all trying to protect them. Aaron works with the new cop in town, Sergeant Raco and helps him to understand who these people used to be, while Raco helps Aaron understand who they’ve become. Aaron is a fascinating lead - he has Dad issues, he’s clearly got commitment issues, and being back in Kiewarra is setting everything off.
Ellie, while she died very young, plays a huge part throughout the whole novel. Her death really sent Luke and Aaron on their very different paths. And it’s fascinating how at the start you see Ellie as this sort of shadow hanging over everyone, then this moody teenager who has no patience for anyone, and then at the very end (and I’m talking the last freakin’ pages) you realize who she really is. A young woman who has grown up around trauma, lost her Mother, abused by her Father, and ultimately killed by him. Her whole life was decided by horrible men.
Karen is also an interesting character. Aaron never got to meet her before she was murdered, but builds a sort of saint like picture of her as time goes on. Which is so real, it’s what people do when someone dies. If they were a decent person, they become a saint. If they were kind of a dick, they become evil. And Karen is a saint. Perhaps in real life she was just a stressed out Mother, trying to do the best for her children and her husband. But we see her as an incredible woman who uncovered fraud, stood up for what she believed in, and turned Luke around into a good man.
There’s a lot of characters in this novel, and instead of them getting lost, Harper clearly lays a flawless vision for all of them. Every character is well thought out and has their place.
Another thing I loved about Harper’s writing was how absorbing it was. When I was in a reading rampage I could practically smell the bush, feel the heat pouring down on me, and feel the strain of all this town gossip. Her writing is incredibly descriptive and it leads to some really incredible moments.
The final showdown with Aaron, Raco, and Whitlam genuinely took my breath away. They’re in the middle of the bush, the heat is beating down, everything is dry and Whitlam is cornered. He threatens to light the bush on fire which would quickly burn through the whole town. “Fire would barrel along that chain like a bullet train, he knew. It surged and jumped and gorged itself. It raced like an animal. It ravaged with inhuman efficiency.” I MEAN COME ON.
Obviously, the big part of mystery thrillers is...well...the mystery! Can you solve it before the lead? Will it completely take you by surprise? With The Dry I could not see the murderer coming. But when the surprise was dropped, it made sense to me. And the best part was that the punches kept coming. Because this story isn’t about just one mystery, it’s about many little mysteries. Which all unravel until literally the last page. It leaves you breathless.
The Dry was an absolute joy and surprise to read. As I mentioned before, I immediately went out and purchased Force of Nature, which is the second book in the Aaron Falk series. The third just came out this year. (I also purchased it...just in case I couldn’t wait after finishing Force of Nature...oops!)
I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good mystery, and loves that small town thriller. I’ll be back with a review for Force of Nature. In the meantime, welcome to church of Jane Harper, pull up a seat and let’s sing the gospel of Aaron Falk.
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