The Dry is one of those mysteries so thoroughly integrated into the environment in which it takes place, it seems almost as though the land itself is a character. Aaron Falk is a federal financial crimes investigator in Melbourne who is called back to his hometown Kiewarra for the funeral of Luke Hadler and Luke’s wife and son. Luke was his best friend growing up and now is believed to have murdered his wife and son before killing himself, leaving only his infant daughter to survive. Luke’s parents beg Falk to investigate, believing there had to be a different explanation.
The kind of despair that would cause a father to annihilate his family is particularly credible because Kiewarra is in the midst of an unprecedented drought that has lasted a few years already. They have had to slaughter their livestock and sheep, cannot keep flowers and trees alive and the entire countryside is a tinderbox waiting to explode. So is the community, people in dire financial straits, falling ever more behind financially, local businesses closing because no one can afford to buy anything, even the school is in disrepair.
Twenty years earlier, Luke and Falk were part of a foursome with Gretchen and Ellie. Ellie Deacon and Falk were not officially an item, but Falk loved her and thought she loved him, too. Then she died, drowned in the river, though whether it was murder or suicide was not certain. Falk was blamed, not matter what. There was a paper with the date of her murder and his last name, so the community judgment was that either Falk or his father drove her to suicide or killed her. They were subjected to a harassment campaign that drove them from Kiewarra. Luke’s funeral was the first time he came back and he was ready to leave before the service was over, but agreed to stay for a week to learn what he could with the eager assistance of the local police officer who was newly assigned to the area.
I like mysteries that are fair and Jane Harper’s The Dry is very fair. I also love it when the environment affects the story. In many ways, the environment is the story, not just the overwhelming heat, but the way it affects the people and the community of Kiewarra. The Dry falls into that dying town trope, there’s even several confrontations at the local bar. Kiewarra is not quite yet a “wretched hive of scum and villainy,” but it’s on its way. People are insular, the law is no protection. There is the man vs. town element that adds an air of menace everywhere Falk goes.
Luke’s father and Falk are convinced the solution to what happened with Luke, whether he was the murderer of his family, or the third victim of another killer, lies in the past, when Ellie Deacon died. If one mystery can be solved, perhaps both can. In the end, The Dry is a very satisfying mystery, resolving the past and the present, but not as expected.
The Dry will be released January 10th, 2017. I received an advance e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.