Little, Brown 12 January 2017
I'm grateful to the publisher for letting me have an advance copy of "The Dry" for review as part of the tour.
This is a well plotted, compelling and immersive crime novel set in a parched rural Australia. (Outback noir? Drought noir?)
It's the worst dry period for a hundred years, and Aaron Falk returns to the small town of Kiewarra, where he grew up for the funeral of a friend. Luke committed suicide: worse, he murdered his family first.
Aaron himself left under a cloud 20 years ago after his friend Ellie drowned, leaving a note with his name on it. He's not welcome - they won't serve him in the shops and the attitude is graphically demonstrated when someone fills his car with shit. But he is a ruthlessly efficient investigator of financial crime, who may just be the person to follow the money and prove Luke innocent. Together with the local policeman, he sets out to discover the truth.
But if Luke didn't kill his family and himself, there's another murderer out there... with unfinished business himself in the town, is Aaron he too close to events to help - is he, perhaps trying to avoid his open past guilt? By returning, will he stumble back into the trouble he avoided all those years ago. And what, exactly, did happen to Ellie?
So many questions. Is it too late to find answers?
I loved this story in so many ways.
There's the setting - the dusty, tinder dry town and its environs, the peeling, closed shops, the shabby school, the desperate farmers, all seem to denote a whole way of life on the inevitable slide whether you blame global warming, the world economy or those Chinese investors buying up land.
And the characters - Aaron, haunted by what happened when he was 16, Luke and Ellie (because Harper darts back and forward in time, giving us different perspectives and teasing with hints of the story).
Above all, perhaps, there is the sheer quality of the storytelling. The evolving relationship between Luke, Ellie, Aaron and Gretchen, all those years ago, is shown with such a well observed dynamic between the teenagers (even if it does lead to tragedy). Harper takes her time to show them growing apart and together then to introduce the family circumstances around that - always with the twin tragedies in view, always returning to the shattering effect of them on Aaron's life - and his attempts to put things right now.
Will interfering just cause more pain and - potentially - lead to a much greater disaster? Read this book to find out.
It's a great read, deep in atmosphere and psychological truth. NOT one to be missed.