Review: “The Dry,” Jane Harper

Rating: 5 out of 5

A person who was helping me with my resume noticed that I write genre fiction reviews and recommended Jane Harper’s The Dry: A Novel to me. I’m so glad he did!

Aaron Falk is a Federal police officer in Australia, but not your typical fictional homicide cop–he’s the guy who follows the money trail. He has returned home to his childhood small town for the funeral of his old fried Luke, and Luke’s wife and toddler. Supposedly Luke killed his family (except for his baby girl) and then killed himself. Everyone blames the drought, which is ruining all of the farms, for driving him to despair. It doesn’t help that when Luke and Aaron were teenagers, their friend Ellie drowned, a lot of people thought it was Aaron’s doing, and Luke gave Aaron his alibi at the time. Luke’s father Gerry knows Luke lied about the alibi, and he uses this knowledge to force Aaron to come to town for the funeral. Gerry thinks there’s no way Luke could have killed his family, and wants Aaron to go through all of Luke’s financial records to look for evidence that someone else may have killed them due to debts owed. Unfortunately, Ellie’s father and cousin want to stir up the entire town against Aaron for (they believe) killing Ellie, and in this heat, tempers can flare very quickly.

One of my favorite details about this is the relationship that develops between Aaron and Sergeant Raco, the local law enforcement. Raco has already noticed a couple of details that don’t really add up, so he’s open to having Aaron look at alternative explanations. We don’t get the stereotypical friction with disbelieving local police, and that’s nice for a change. There are plenty of possible suspects, and the most obvious are Grant Dow, Ellie’s cousin, and Jamie Sullivan, a guy who worked with Luke that afternoon and who seems to be lying about several details of that day.

The town’s feelings about Aaron make for plenty of ongoing tension, especially when someone starts plastering posters with his picture on them around town. Aaron and his father were run out of town shortly after Ellie died, so there’s a lot of unresolved anger there. The town is very small and insular, so no one has forgotten what happened all those years ago. The only people who seem open to dealing with Aaron are those who didn’t live in town at the time all that happened, like the principal of the school Luke’s toddler went to, Sgt. Raco, and the barman who’s renting Aaron a room.

There isn’t a lot of action to this story and yet it remains fascinating and engaging. I think I’ll read another Jane Harper book next!

Content note for animal harm, domestic violence, murder, and a bit of racial bigotry and misogyny.

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