The Dry by Jane Harper.
The Dry by Jane Harper.

Books: Aussie crime thriller twists and turns in the desert

SOME books attract a lot of attention before they're anywhere near bookstores and The Dry by Jane Harper is one such book. The manuscript was the subject of a bidding war at auction and film rights optioned by Reese Witherspoon's production company long before it was due to hit Aussie bookshelves.

The book's prologue is powerful and shockingly addictive - kicking off with the echo of gunshots and the death of a family in a small drought-stricken Australian town.

Townsfolk (and readers) are even more horrified when it appears farmer Luke Hadler killed his wife and child before turning the gun on himself.

It's assumed Luke fell prey to depression as a result of financial stress, although rumours of infidelity and jealousy soon start to spread across the small community.

His childhood best friend Aaron Falk returns for the funeral. Aaron - now a financial investigator with the Australian Federal Police - was driven from town as a teenager following an incident two decades earlier.

Luke's mother is adamant her son would not have taken the lives of his family and Aaron grudgingly agrees to her request to look into the deaths.

Of course small communities have long memories and Aaron's an unwelcome visitor to his former home town, but decides to stay once new evidence suggests there's more to the deaths than initially thought.

Aaron works alongside local cop Sergeant Greg Raco, unpicking the Hadler family's final weeks and days. He's also forced to consider whether the events of his (and Luke's) teenage years might have played a role in the tragedy.

It's pleasing Harper avoids the temptation to portray Sergeant Raco as a bumbling fool resentful of Aaron's interference. The pair work well together and readers are offered a few false leads to keep us guessing. This wonderful debut novel reflects the contrasts of Outback Australia: menaced in equal parts by drought and floods, and comprising communities that band together or ostracise you completely.

It's a worthy recipient of its pre-release hype.

The Dry by Jane Harper is published by Pan Macmillan Australia, RRP$29.99.


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