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The Dry by Jane Harper

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Marjorie Hardey

My husband and I were pleased to receive "The Dry" from Viking Book Club as it gave us the opportunity to read a book, which we would probably not have bought from a bookshop. As the first novel from a new author it is gripping and moves at a fast pace with cliffhanger chapter endings. We both found that we could not put it down and it certainly conveys the atmosphere of a small town suffering from prolonged drought in the Australian outback.

The relationships between the residents and incomers were well portrayed and the atmosphere of suspicion dominates the book. The outcome of the "whodunit" was unexpected. We both felt however that too much use had been made of flashback, which was indicated by chunks of text in italic type. In spite of that, the story is well-told and we would thoroughly recommend this book.

John Tyson

I found it hard to believe that I was reading a book written by a debut novelist so assured is her writing. Jane Harper sets the novel in Kiewarra a drought ridden Small Australian community where the inhabitants and the town have very little going for them.

Aaron Falk a Melbourne policeman returns to the town to attend the funeral of a childhood friend who apparently shot his wife and 6 year old son before turning the gun on himself.

This is Falk's first visit to the town since he was run out of the place after being suspected of killing his classmate Ellie Deacon some 20 years ago. Although he is unwelcome in the town and wanting to leave he is persuaded to stay and investigate the circumstances of his friends death.

Unwittingly Falk becomes involved in trying to solve 2 crimes which occurred 20 years apart.

All in all this was a cracking read only slightly marred in my opinion by too many flashback passages in the book. Nevertheless I heartily recommend this novel.

Dawn Stewart

The Dry is a debut novel by Jane Harper. I did not expect much from a debut novel but I was proved wrong. I was hooked from the start; Harper uses a backdrop of a harsh and remote area of the Australian outback, in a town called Kiewarra. The story keeps you engaged; the character development is informative and well-written. Some characters you can grow to love, others you grow to hate. This book is very atmospheric and Harper captures the essence of living in a small remote town during a severe drought. I found it felt as though I was there. The story itself is gripping and you just want to keep reading. The secrets, the emotions and the twists will keep you interested and wondering who did it.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book. I did find in parts it was a bit slow and I was a bit confused about the police procedure. But these are minor problems. I really enjoyed this book and will be reading it again soon!

Sheridan Thomas

The Dry is a thrilling, earthy novel set in an isolated Australian farming community during the time of the worst drought in living memory. The many twists and turns will keep the reader captivated. Aaron Falk, a policeman from Melbourne returns to Kiewara. This is a close knit town where he grew up. He returned for the funeral of Luke Harper, a childhood friend, who along with his wife and son have been killed. At first it appeared as if Luke had shot and killed his wife and son before turning his gun on himself. After an investigation this was the official verdict.

On his return Aaron Falk gets involved in an unofficial investigation into the deaths in partnership with the local policeman.

With the clever use of “flash backs” a much larger story unfolds of family disputes, abuses and historical cover up stories. Tensions run high in Kiewara as the investigation proceeds down a series of blind alleys all producing more intrigue about life in the town both past and present. The tension becomes very real in this gripping novel with many possible suspects until the final few pages reveal the result of Aaron’s investigation. The story comes to an abrupt and surprising ending.

Kay Whitney

This book comes garnished with plaudits and needs none from me ; which is just as well because it won't get them.

Don't get me wrong; this is a very well written whodunit which grips the attention. But (and you knew there was a "but" coming) it failed to do what it set itself to do ; to communicate the stifling heat and aridity of the worst drought in living memory (the eponymous"dry")and to set the drama of the book firmly within that heat.

It comes close but it's a high bar it's set itself and it doesn't quite get there.

This excellent writer has a different and better book within her examining more directly the effect of these extreme weather and economic conditions on a small and insular society and not scattering her energies on trying to shoehorn an admittedly convincing story into this examination.

The use of two apparently well known antipodean contractions ; "ute" (utility vehicle) and "arvo" (afternoon) is ubiquitous and slightly annoying ; presumably to establish the author's knowledge of the lingo and, by implication, the culture. Nothing wrong with that ; but it grates after a while.

I gather this may be this author's first offering ; I look forward to it's successors.

Les Readman

This isn’t a bad story. In fact I quite enjoyed it, but I felt it didn't live up to the hype of the reviews on the opening pages.

Yes it's evocative of a life in the outback, but it didn't seem to be one that the author had lived first hand. My impression was someone from the city who was dipping into country life.

The story is told in a very methodical manner, with the author releasing information and clues as you progress through the novel. The characters are the usual mix of good and bad, with a degree of depth, but I felt could have been developed more.

So to summarise, a book worth reading, particularly if you like the genre, but not one to which I would give glowing praise. A final point, after reading this I doubt it will increase your desire to vacation in Australia – this is not the Australia of the travel brochures.

Then my wife picked up the book, read it in a couple of days and her comments were, “couldn’t put it down”, “a real page turner “ and “when’s her next book coming out”.

So, what can I say?

Kirsteen MacLean

Jane Harper's writing is excellent, the storyline combines the present with the past very well, giving the book 2 mysteries that need to be solved. She manages to combine her description of the town affected by drought without losing the reader from the story - very well done.

Great book, I found it hard to put down and would certainly recommend reading this.

Paul Majendie

Take a dollop of "Deliverance" and then add a sprinkling of "Straw Dogs" and what do you get? The answer is the wonderfully sinister atmosphere conjured up by debut Australian novelist Jane Harper with "The Dry," a taut and accomplished thriller set in the drought-parched outback.

It just cries out to be turned into a movie. Maybe Mel Gibson might be tempted. It is the first work of fiction by a journalist who doesn't waste a word and clearly knows who to ratchet up the tension.

The scene is the small town of Kiewarra. Three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered.

Everyone believes Luke Hadler committed suicide after slaying his wife and six-year-old son.

Policeman Aaron Falk, a childhood friend of Luke, returns to his hometown for the funerals and then is inextricably drawn into the investigation.

Harper knows how to draw her characters with a few deft strokes. The creepy townsfolk are weighed down with secrets. Almost every chapter ends with a cliffhanger twist.

The final twist certainly fooled me but, hey, I have never hacked even the most predictable of Agatha Christie's tortuous tales.

This is a genuine page turner that makes for the perfect summer read.

Ruth Kinson

Not many books grip me from in the first paragraph but The Dry was one of those rare times. The prologue gives a vivid description of the drought that has descended on the town of Kiewarra in Southern Australia. This sets the scene for an enthralling tale.

The story begins when police officer Aaron Falk returns from Melbourne to Kiewarra for the funerals of his childhood friend Luke Hadler, his wife Karen and their son, Billy.

The deaths appear to be a tragic case of double murder followed by suicide.

Falk is keen to get back to Melbourne after the funerals but he is drawn into the police investigation by the local police sergeant, Raco, when he finds some inconsistencies in the presumed theory.

Falk left his hometown many years ago after the mysterious death of a young woman. There are people in Kiewarra that believe he may be responsible for her death and should pay for it.

As the story unfolds there are flashbacks to Falk’s teenage years. These enhance the story and help in understanding the characters of the novel.

The tension builds to a unexpected and satisfying conclusion to both mysteries.

John Walker

I give all books a 5-page rule, if you are not hooked before then it tends to be disappointing, this passed the test in the first 5 sentences.

The story switches seamlessly from the present day when a young family have been found murdered to the past where the events leading up to the murder are slowly and inexorably brought together.

Add in the scene setting, a drought ridden town caught in a heat wave and the inevitable tensions, the description of the outback and a male dominated town that still seems to exist in the 1950’s and a clever plot twist at the end that pulls the story together.

This is an excellent book, part detective story and part psychological thriller and a pleasure to read.

Paula McGee

I’m always a bit cynical when I’m reading critical praise for a book, having been disappointed on numerous occasions, yet Jane Harper’s debut novel “The Dry” fully deserves all the plaudits it has received. It’s a tautly written page turner which is difficult to put down.

At the heart of the novel is the brutal killing of three members of the same family in the small farming community of Kiewarra. On the surface, it seems like an open and shut case but there are niggling doubts and unanswered questions which need to be considered. These are investigated by the town’s police sergeant and also Aaron Falk, a former resident of Kiewarra who is now a policeman in Melbourne and has returned for the funerals.

As the two of them dig deeper into the tragic events, memories of the death of a young girl twenty years ago come to the fore. The novel interweaves the past and present extremely skilfully as the two characters search for the truth.

The plot is gripping with many dead ends and red herrings before the final outcome. The characters are believable and well portrayed. A constant running throughout the book is the searing heat, drought and slow death of a once thriving community. “The Dry” is well worth reading.

Hilda Woolridge

The Dry is a real page-turner well written and lots of twists and turns. I am a big fan of psychological thrillers the Scandi Noir authors especially Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo and Steig Larsen.

There were lots of layers and the turns to the past for more details of earlier events, these were all well written. There were some very good descriptions of the various Town characters and harboured grudges over the years.

The ingredient missing for me was I didn't engage with the characters in the way I need to, to be left wanting to know more about their lives.

It wasn't so much I didn't like them I just didn't like them enough and whilst I believe all of us can be pushed to far over the edge and be capable of violence the horrific details of the slaughter of the family especially of Billy didn't ring true when we knew the details of the killer.

Harold Gibbon

‘ The Dry ‘ It took me a day to read this, I wanted to find out who done it. It was a good light read and my wife enjoyed the way the present and past were separated, but the book left me with questions.

1 If Ellie was abused and raped why did not her friends and employer spot any of the bruises? I find it hard to believe that after finding her diary Falk would not bother to clear his and his father’s name.

2 Why was Dow and his nephew allowed to destroy so many lives without exposure after Ellie’s diary came to light.

3 Why did I get the impression that Karen confided in Whitlam that she was worried about the unstable nature of Luke’s farm which was likely to go under in six months.

4 The gay relationship between the doctor and Sullivan was portrayed as a cloak and dagger cheap relationship which appeared to have no relationship with the doctors handling of the murder scene.

5 The attempt to cover Luke's first intercourse with Gretchen by providing an alibi of shooting rabbits. Did the two youngsters have access to guns and why did no one query the guns and ammunition used. The book touched on three major world issues, money laundering, gay rights and the drought and farming crisis which is a major world issue today and I was left with the impression that there was poor knowledge of these subjects.

Sandi Williams

I read the email from Viking saying I’d been picked to review a book and an hour or so later or clonked through the letterbox. I opened it, saw it was a crime thriller by someone I’d never heard of and put in onto the kitchen table. Over an intended-to-be-quick sandwich for lunch I thought I’d have a quick browse and that turned into “I’ll just read another chapter” and, by then, I was hooked.

What an opening line: “It wasn’t as if the farm hadn’t seen death before, and the blowflies didn’t discriminate”. By the end of the Prologue and first few chapters I was there – watching the funeral, feeling the unrelenting heat from the sun beating down, being forced to feel the desperation of people eking out a living in the rain-starved countryside, a tinderbox ready to explode – an obvious metaphor for a community ready to believe that, for one farmer, it had all proved to be too much and, for them and the reader, to wonder who would succumb next. And the phrase “you lied, he lied” to appear and re-appear.

And, in our house, mid-afternoon arrived and went. Reluctantly put the book down to deal with commitments. Another few chapters that evening before falling asleep. Next day coffee & toast accompanied another chapter or two…. And my plans for that day went unnoticed as I just HAD to keep on reading to unravel the truth of what happened. And still to be shocked and surprised and for the ultimate weapon of destruction to be unleashed. Don’t want to say what as it would be a spoiler for a would-be reader.

I make it a rule not to read the blurbs on book covers before reading the contents. Now I can see that this book deserves the plaudits like Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month and so on. I wouldn’t channel it as only a crime book – yes it involves murder and a whodunnit trail but I think it’s much more as it conjures up onto the page an unrelenting landscape where man is pitted against nature and is losing. Losing everything in some cases too. No surprise really that the author is a journalist. She knows how to deliver crucial information in a way that captures a reader and for the necessary time changes for what’s gone before to be revealed in an unclumsy way that the jigsaw picture is finally revealed. What a debut novel. Hope it’s followed by others as good.

Elizabeth Corbett

Thank you for sending "the Dry" by Jane Harper. I really enjoyed reading it. It was well written with a good pace and it kept me guessing right to the end-once I got into the book I had to keep reading. I thought that the author captured the atmosphere of the town very well and you could almost feel the heat coming out of the pages. I look forward to future books.

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