The Dry

By Jane Harper                  Pan Macmillan Australia 2016                                     Adult Fiction

Score: 9/10                                                                                    Genre: Australian Crime Thriller

book shorts blue (2)   This is part of Shorts Series of book reviews (skimping on all aspects except Use for Writers)

Aaron Falk, a federal police investigator, returns to his drought-stricken home town, Kiewarra to attend the funeral of an old friend, Luke Hadler. Luke is the apparent perpetrator of murder-suicide in which his wife and baby were killed.

Falk reluctantly stays to assist the local police sergeant in an attempt to find answers for Luke’s bereaved parents. The town holds bitter memories for Aaron including the suspicious death of childhood friend – Ellie. Falk’s investigation reopens old wounds and sets him against old enemies. What is the secret Falk keeps and is there a connection between the recent deaths of the Hadler family and the death of Ellie, 20 years ago?

This is the most gripping book of any genre I’ve read in many years. I am generally a slow reader but I read this in less than 3 days (a long train journey helped too).

Use for writers:

If you want the ingredients of riveting, crime page-turner – study this book. Some of the reasons why ‘The Dry’ is so gripping:

-The investigator is not a dispassionate outsider with no stake in the community or the crime. Aaron Falk has murky history and the suspense arises not just from the whodunnit aspect of the Hadler murders but the slow reveals of event’s in Aaron’s past.

-Jane Harper engenders empathy for Aaron Falk. She gives a him a tough motherless childhood, awkward teenage years and a haunted but thoughtful adult persona. As much as the reader wants to know who is responsible for the Hadler murders they also want to see Falk redeemed.

-There are, of course, the classic crime novel strengths of multiple suspects and motives. Who do you trust? However, unlike many crime novels I’ve read none of the secrets or motives seem strange or too convulted. The final solution is satisfying and plausible.

-The setting of a drought-stricken town where tempers and livelihoods are fragile adds to the tension and the constant underlying threat of violence.

Extra note about the writing: ‘The Dry’ stays in third person, past tense but when relating witness accounts rather than stay in Falk’s POV it switches to the POV of the interviewee (who has perfect recollection of minute details). It is a strange technique that threw me at first. It didn’t allow for lying and the reader appeared to be getting more information than Falk. I came to the conclusion it was cheating a little but allowed for more evocative, descriptions of past events and, therefore, was more entertaining than a question-answer interview. I have shown a short example below. Falk is talking to Luke’s father, Gerry. The switch to Gerry’s POV is in italics, as it is in the book. No spoilers here.

‘Is it connected with what happened to Ellie?’ (Gerry)

‘I honestly don’t know, Gerry. ‘(Falk)

‘But maybe?’

‘Maybe.’

A silence. ‘Christ. Listen, there’s something I should have told you from the start.’ (Gerry )

Gerry Hadler was hot but not unhappy about it. He tapped a light rhythm on the steering wheel whistling to himself. The evening sun warmed…

Gerry glanced at the bottle of sparkling wine lying on the passenger seat. He’d popped into town to pick up supplies and spontaneously nipped into the bottle shop.

***

What do you think about this technique?

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