The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry by Jane Harper (2016) French title: Canicule.

After reading the second volume of Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk series (see my billet), I decided to read the first one as well. Good for me because The Dry was even better than Force of Nature.

The main character is Aaron Falk, a federal police officer working in the financial division. He’s usually after white collar criminals. When the book opens, Aaron Falk is in Melbourne and he’s about to go back to his hometown Kiewarra to attend the funeral of his childhood friend Luke Hadler, his wife Karen and their son Billy.

Kiewarra is a rural town, Luke was a farmer and all farmers are struggling to survive because of a terrible drought. The town is dying, the lack of income from the farmers affect the local shops and this drought seems endless. Luke was apparently at the end of his rope and killed himself and his family. Only baby Charlotte escaped the slaughter.

Falk hasn’t been home for twenty years and he goes back reluctantly. When he’s at the funeral, a picture of Luke, him, Gretchen and Ellie appears in a slide show. It brings back the year when he was 16, the year Ellie was found dead in the river, the year he was wrongly accused of the murder, the year his father and he had to leave town and settle in Melbourne.

After the funeral, Luke’s parents, Barb and Gerry come and talk to Falk. They want him to investigate Luke’s death, they don’t believe that their son committed suicide. Barb wants Falk to investigate Luke’s finances, to see whether he was so close to bankruptcy that he’d kill his family. Gerry wants to know whether it has anything to do with the unsolved mystery of Ellie’s death. Indeed, when she died, a piece of paper with FALK written in her handwriting was found in her pocket. Why? Aaron didn’t have a witness to confirm his alibi and Luke and he decided to lie about where we were and be each other’s alibi. They said they were together. Gerry knows they were lying and now he wonders if his son killed Ellie back in the day.

Aaron agrees to investigate and takes a few days off. He’d love to go back home, to his orderly life in Melbourne. But he stays because of all the good times he spent at the Hadlers’ when he was a kid, for all the warmth and affection Barb gave him freely, something he needed, having lost his mother at birth.

Luckily, Raco, the newly appointed police chief of Kiewarra thinks that the Clyde police force in charge of the case was all too happy to file it as a suicide. For Raco, details don’t add up. The way Karen was found sprawled in the hallway of their house, the way Billy was killed after what looks like a chase in his bedroom, the way Luke’s body was lying in his truck. And why spare baby Charlotte? And why use different cartridges than the usual?

Raco and Aaron join their forces to start an unofficial investigation. Did Luke killed his wife and son before turning his shotgun against himself? If he didn’t, why were they murdered and has the killing anything to do with Ellie’s death?

Aaron’s presence in Kiewarra is not welcome and his coming back stirs hatred and brings back old secrets. What happened to Luke and his family? What happened to Ellie? Will this new drama allow Falk to have some closure about the terrible events that changed his life?

I loved The Dry. Jane Harper created an atmospheric novel. It shows a small town with secrets and festering hatred, a town where news travel fast, where strangers remain strangers for years, where things remain under wraps because they all need each other at a time or another, so why stir trouble and risk being an outcast and out of the town’s support system? The drought exacerbates everything because this rural community suffers from the lack of water and farmers risk to lose their farm. Things could blow up any time.

Highly recommended.

Please find Bill’s very informative review about The Dry here.

PS: Follow up of my Australian English chronicles. On Goodreads, a question about The Dry was “What is a ute and what is a huntsman” I’m happy to report I know what they are and that I have passed a new stage with pokie, arvo, aggro and ammo. 😊 Unfortunately, I don’t understand why the book is entitled The Dry and not The Drought. Any help with that?

This also qualifies for the AWW Challenge. See here.

  1. July 31, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Hi! I also thought The Dry was excellent. I run a mystery book club at the library where I work and the whole group gave it 4- and 5-star reviews. I want to read Force of Nature and will be working towards that eventually!


    • August 1, 2018 at 8:54 am

      I’m not surprised that your book club all agreed about this one. It has all the right ingredients and doesn’t go overboard. It’s a delicate equilibrium of soul searching, good mystery and small town politics.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. July 31, 2018 at 2:23 pm

    That’s what we call a drought here, the dry. It’s in line with the seasons in the outback which are simply, the wet and the dry, rather than the typical four seasons. If we miss a wet, then we’re in drought and the dry just stretches on.


  3. August 1, 2018 at 1:38 am

    Embarrassing that you should be reading and reviewing more Australian fiction than I am. But enjoyable. Your point of view from France (or as a visitor, how’s that going?) is always stimulating. I really must read Jane Harper, though I have one small point – what is a “small town”? Most Australians have as little experience of life outside the big cities as do Europeans and Americans, but in my experience a small town has 500 people and is lucky to have one policeman let alone a police ‘chief’ (an Americanism with no equivalent in any Australian state). A big town of say 2,000 people might have a police sergeant and a couple of constables. A town of 10,000 people, a moderate size in Europe or the US, is in Australia officially a city. Finally, if you’re currently in north Qld, make sure that huntsman isn’t a tarantula!

    Liked by 1 person

    • August 1, 2018 at 9:04 am

      Well, it’s not a normal year for me regarding Australian literature.

      The trip is very good so far. I’m currently in Airlie Beach, coming back from the high of a tour in the Whitsunday Islands. Breathtaking.

      I can’t tell you how many inhabitants there are in Kiewarra. Enough to have a highschool.
      Sorry for the Americanism, that would be my mistake. I guess I still have progress to make in Australian English. In the book, Raco is a police sergeant and he works with a constable and a secretary. The Americanism is all mine. Jane Harper’s English sounds pretty Australian to me.

      So Kiewarra would have at least 2 000 inhabitants. For me it’s a small town. Enough for everybody to know everyone.

      *smashing her head with the palm of her hand* There are different types of huntsman according to the region? I had saved the picture of this one in my “ugly but safe” bank of images. Now I’ll have to reconsider. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • August 1, 2018 at 9:57 am

        Yes, not all big spiders are “ugly but safe” though according to google a tarantula won’t kill you. Sorry about “chief”, I didn’t mean to pick on your English. I see The Dry is available (from Audible) as an audiobook. I’ll download it immediately (this arvo).


        • August 1, 2018 at 12:21 pm

          OK, I’ll just follow the signs and walk with appropriate shows and we’ll see.

          No worries, I knew you weren’t picking on my English. You just highlighted one of my problems. I have this self-made dictionary in my head where I store “English” words and sometimes I don’t know where they come from. I hope I don’t often mix British and American words in the same sentence.

          I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts about The Dry. I think it’s a good book to listen as an audio book.


  4. August 1, 2018 at 4:52 am

    Great review! I loved this book too and was particularly impressed by Jane Harper’s descriptive abilities. Interested to hear that you enjoyed ‘The Dry’ more than its sequel (which I am yet to read) – why do you think that is?


    • August 1, 2018 at 9:06 am

      I think the style is more polished in The Dry and the story is more original.
      But I still enjoyed it enough to order The Dry immediately, didn’t I?

      Liked by 1 person

  1. September 10, 2018 at 12:50 am
  2. January 3, 2019 at 6:32 pm
  3. June 12, 2022 at 9:07 am

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