Little, Brown | 2016 | 358p | Review copy | Buy the book
It’s been twenty years since teenager Aaron Faulk and his father were driven out of the small rural town of Kiewarra, Australia. Faulk is now a Federal Police Investigator of financial crime based in Melbourne. Now and then he meets up with his old mate Luke whenever Luke is visiting the city from Kiewarra but otherwise Faulk’s ties with his old hometown are cut. Until now. A tragedy calls Faulk back. Luke is dead. He killed himself but not before he shot dead in their home his wife Karen and their small son Billy. A note from Luke’s father insists Faulk must return for the funerals, hinting that he knows something about that other tragedy twenty years before. Luke’s father knows that all those years ago Luke and Faulk lied.
Apprehensive about what he might find, Faulk returns to a community devastated by the three deaths and stricken by a terrible drought. The town’s policeman, a newcomer, is doing his best to find out what drove Luke to do what he did but when Faulk offers his help it is gratefully accepted. But the more Faulk digs, the more the past returns to haunt him. And Faulk’s presence is a reminder to the town of their earlier loss. Tension, grief and anger do their worst, and soon Faulk feels a million miles away from his life in Melbourne and he realises that this town has never left him. It’s time for Kiewarra’s secrets to emerge from the shadows.
The Dry isn’t just a crime novel, it’s a vividly painted portrait of a community brought to the edge of despair and ruin by the brutality of man and the devastation of nature. Kiewarra is a farming community facing the reality of no rain, dried up rivers and poverty. In a sense, people can understand why their fellow farmer Luke should have been brought so low but then they remember his wife and innocent child. People want answers but not everyone wants them from Aaron Faulk. Jane Harper’s descriptions of Kiewarra are superb and it infuses the whole novel with a mood and atmosphere that makes The Dry stand out as one of the best crime novels we’ll see this winter. There’s something about reading a fine novel set in such a dry and hot location while huddled under blankets during the winter cold.
The story is cleverly told. Most of the narrative follows Faulk during his visit to Kiewarra when he tries to help the police investigation while at the same time having to endure the stares and insults of the townspeople. But interspersed throughout are flashbacks, covering both the recent crime and the events of twenty years before. This works brilliantly and takes us into the past, bringing it into the present, in such an effective fashion.
Almost everyone in The Dry is given a past and a story. They are all so fascinating to learn and it brings this small place to life. But I also really enjoyed the crime aspect of the novel. It is such a good mystery. There is a real sadness and hopelessness to some aspects of the story and to some of the characters, as well as a foreboding and threat, but this is offset by the beauty of the language, the vastness of the sky and the stark and vivid isolation of the parched Kiewarra. This is a novel to become engrossed in. I didn’t want to put it down at all and was sorry when it came to its excellent conclusion and I had to.