Aaron Falk hasn't returned to Kiewarra for twenty years. But when his childhood friend commits suicide after murdering his wife and son, Aaron is forced to return. It's not obligation or memory to his friend. No. It's a summons from his friend's father, a threat or claim to knowledge regarding a secret long kept.
But Luke's dad isn't interested in blackmailing Aaron. Instead, he wants Aaron to look into his son's death. To prove that the murder/suicide the officials stamped on the case isn't true and to find out what really happened to Luke and his family.
But even if Luke's father isn't interested in that long held secret, lots of other folks are. Not only is Aaron Falk a reminder of a dark piece of Kiewarra's past, it's also the reason he and his father left. And more than a few people think Aaron Falk should have stayed far away from their farming community.
I first learned about Jane Harper's debut quite a while back thanks to Reese Witherspoon's interest in the book. Since then it's just been a matter of waiting for the Australian release to land Stateside, which it finally did this past week thanks to the folks over at Flatiron Books.
The story starts with great intensity: an eagle eye view of a murder scene on a dry and dusty farm and a baby crying. It gives me chills even just recalling it for this review!
Aaron Falk, as mentioned above, has been summoned to the Hadler funeral. He and Luke had stayed in touch, even though it's been twenty years since they shared a hometown, but Aaron had never met Luke's wife and children. And though the news of Luke's death (and that of his wife and son) are shocking, it's doubtful even that would have prompted Falk to return to Kiewarra.
Instead, it's a plea from Luke's father, which at first seems to be more of a threat to reveal the fact that he knew Aaron and Luke lied about something two decades ago. Something big enough to make Aaron listen to the threat.
It's quickly revealed that Luke's father has no interest in spilling the beans about this particular secret. It was simply a means to get Aaron, a Federal Agent, to come to the funeral and hear him out. He's certain Luke didn't pull the trigger that killed his wife and son. Certain his son could never have done that to his own family. And as the evidence begins to stack up, Aaron begins to believe the man.
But Kiewarra is the last place Aaron Falk wants to spend any significant amount of time. It's clear no one really likes him, and it soon becomes clear exactly why that is. Twenty years ago, a girl died in Kiewarra. A girl who had been friends with Luke and Aaron. And many people in town have long believed that Aaron played a part in the girl's death.
The longer he stays in town, the more tense the atmosphere becomes. This is a farming community suffering massively from drought and lack of funds. People are losing their livelihoods and with no way to rail against nature itself, many begin to turn their eye to Aaron. After all, the death of that little girl has remained unsolved all these many years...
Harper does a wonderful job ratcheting up the suspense in The Dry. As the story continues the tension in town increases exponentially, leaving more and more victims (and suspects) in its wake. That tension adds a layer of undeniable urgency to the tale, which means an equally urgent pacing. And the plot lives up to that pacing, drawing readers further and further into a tale that twists in a way I definitely did not see coming!
Considering how this one played out, it's no wonder I'm already anxiously awaiting more from Harper - as I suspect many are now! I'm certain we can expect wonderful things from this author in the years to come!