But the shooting deaths of Luke Hadler, 36; his wife Karen, and their young son Billy shocked the community to the soles of their dusty shoes.
Australian Federal Agent Aaron Falk, once Luke’s best friend, couldn’t imagine anything that would bring him back to Kiewarra — until a letter arrived.
“Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral,” Gerry Hadler, Luke’s father, wrote in a heavy hand.
Against his instincts, Aaron returns to the hometown that he and his father were bullied out of 20 years earlier, when Aaron’s friend, 16-year-old Ellie Deacon, was found drowned in the Kiewarra River. A note in Ellie’s handwriting had the date of her death and the name “Falk” written on it.
Grilled by the police, Falk and his father Erik both became the focus of suspicion and hostility until they packed up and left. The doubt between them about what the note meant left a rift that never healed.
Gerry Hadler’s note refers to the fact that Aaron and Luke provided each other with alibis for the time of Ellie’s death.
Now, Gerry wants Falk to investigate the shootings: Did Luke murder his family and then kill himself? Could Luke have murdered once 20 years ago and now again? Were there financial problems? Debts owed to dangerous people? Any explanation for how these unthinkable shootings happened?
Harper has created a spellbinding mystery in which the drought and the town’s own bitter memories and suspicions become characters themselves. In one vividly written passage, Falk is walking across a bone-dry field near where the Hadlers lived toward the river that figured so deeply in his youth. He gradually gets a feeling of foreboding. Then he realizes what it is: the quiet. There’s no sound of a rushing river. When he runs to the river banks, he finds nothing but the whorls and craters of the dry river bed. Not even a trickle flows through. He can stand in the center where once waters would have swirled over his head.
Harper captures the secrets, the gossip and the judgments of a small town in the throes of a slow economic death. She skillfully weaves flashbacks — written as if they were statements made by witnesses — into Aaron’s reluctant investigation. The flashbacks address both mysteries, the Hadler shootings and Ellie Deacon’s drowning.
This is definitely a “don’t-want-to-put-it down” mystery.
Fortunately for readers, there’s more: Force of Nature (2018), which features Aaron Falk, and The Lost Man (2019), which is a stand-alone mystery, and The Survivors (2021), also a stand-alone novel.
Actress Reese Witherspoon has purchased the movie rights to The Dry, which premiered in Melbourne in December 2020. It was listed among Notable Selections in an article on Crimereads.com on the 10 best crime novels of the last decade.
Author Chris Hammer offers another vision of murder in drought-stricken Australian towns in Scrublands.
About the Author: Jane Harper (1980 – )
Originally from the United Kingdom, she moved with her family to Australia when she was eight years old. She now lives in Melbourne. She worked as a print journalist for 13 years before taking an online class that led to her writing The Dry.