The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry: The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017 by [Harper, Jane]The Dry was probably one of the most critically acclaimed crime novels of 2017, so I don't know why it's taken me two years to getting round to reading it and I'm sorry I'm so late to this particular party.

Anyway. The Dry opens, incredibly ominously, in a drought-ridden, isolated Australian farming community where the flies are swarming. What they're attracted by is death, and this time it's not the bodies of starving cattle they're buzzing over. The Hadler family has died in what's apparently a classic 'family annihilation' case in which the father, Luke, has murdered his wife and son before turning the gun on himself to avoid facing the failure of the family farm. So why didn't Luke show any previous signs of depression? And why is one member of the family, baby Charlotte, still alive?

Luke's parents, clutching at any possible straw that might reveal that their son didn't kill his family after all, look for help from Aaron Falk, now a police officer who specialises in financial crime, but previously Luke's closest childhood friend. Aaron left Kiewarra as a teenager after another tragedy rocked the small town and although he's never had any desire to return, history with the Hadler family forces him to confront his demons, and with the help of local cop Sergeant Raco, he starts to investigate.

Aaron and Luke, however, shared another secret back in the day, a secret about the death of their friend Ellie - and the people of Kiewarra have not forgotten.

The Dry's biggest strength is the vividness with which Jane Harper describes its oppressive, decaying setting. In Kiewarra, the local schoolchildren draw pictures of brown, barren fields and their sad-faced parents standing beside dying livestock. The heat is relentless, radiating through the very soles of Falk's shoes as he attends the Hadlers' funerals. A huntsman spider lurks on the wall of his hotel room, and the river where he once swam is a cracked, dusty ditch. It's brilliantly atmospheric, and the relentless sunshine is somehow every bit as eerie and foreboding as the mists and darkness of crime fiction from Scandinavia.

The characters, too, feel credible and real - they're people you feel you could easily meet, even if, like me, you've never set foot down under. And the plot - always the main driver of a successful crime novel - is as gripping and twisty as you'd hope. Although I didn't get round to reading The Dry when it was a publishing sensation a couple of years ago, I'm so glad I finally made the effort as it's an excellent, extremely well-written mystery.

I read most of this book on my Kindle but when I was struggling to sleep on holiday, I also listened to a few sections as an audiobook, so it would be remiss of me not to mention that if you're an audiobook listener, this one is very well-read by Australian actor Stephen Shanahan and I'd heartily recommend it.