In the grip of the worst drought in a century, the farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily when three members of a local family are found brutally slain. Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk reluctantly returns to his hometown for the funeral of his childhood friend, loath to face the townsfolk who turned their backs on him twenty years earlier.
But as questions mount, Falk is forced to probe deeper into the deaths of the Hadler family. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret. A secret Falk thought was long buried. A secret Luke’s death now threatens to bring to the surface in this small Australian town, as old wounds bleed into new ones.
I read a lot of crime novels but when I read the blurb for The Dry, I was hard pushed to remember if I had ever read any set in Australia and that’s what ultimately drew me to this book. Since we are exposed to a lot of Australian television in the UK, a lot of the Aussie terms didn’t cause me any trouble but the author goes with the assumption the reader will understand what she means and doesn’t bother explaining anything.
Instead of being set in a large town where murder is more prevalent, this book is set in a small town called Kiewarra which has been suffering from the effects of a long drought. Since the drought is causing hardship to farmers, it isn’t too hard to believe Luke Handler has snapped under the pressure and decided to end his family’s misery. The descriptions of the setting are excellently done with the author fully utilising the harsh realities of a town being crippled by drought throughout. In fact, the drought returned to the forefront at the climax of the novel in such a way it had me internally applauding the author’s choices.
The main character, Aaron Falk, is likeable although I didn’t really get the sense I knew him particularly well by the end of the story but since this is the start of a series his character will likely grow. As a federal investigator, Aaron mainly investigates money issues, such as embezzlement, which doesn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm at the prospect of further books, however I’m intrigued enough to find out. In The Dry, we don’t really see Aaron at his best as his emotions are in knots, not only over the death of Luke’s family, but also at being back in the town that treated him so badly when he was a teenager. Having said that, there are enough glimpses of his investigative skills to make you accept he is good at his job.
As Aaron’s past comes back to haunt him, the atmosphere in Kiewarra becomes increasingly hostile and while he is subjected to being shunned and his car vandalised, I never felt Aaron was in any real danger. The events of the past are revealed through flashbacks via various characters who were connected to Ellie, the young girl who died, but this story is quite predictable so I basically lost interest in this part early on even though the author attempts to switch things up a bit to muddy the waters. The investigation into the deaths of the Handler family is a slow burner, mainly because Aaron is so reluctant to get involved initially and ends up being dragged into it somewhat against his will. There are a enough twists and turns to keeping you guessing as to what really happened to the Handler family and while the Kiewarra police may be a bit out of their depth, they don’t act like clueless country bumpkins either.
While I think The Dry is a well written and solid debut, I wouldn’t say it brought anything new to the genre but I’m interested enough in the main character to see what happens next.