When you’re reading for escapism, the words need to operate like the most efficient porters, air stewards, chauffeurs, train conductors and travel agents to get you from your armchair into more exotic climes. Jane Harper’s outback thriller does it in style.
The Dry is a whodunit set in a drought-ridden small town in the middle of nowhere – isolated in a halo of dust a stuffy five-hour drive from Melbourne. Coming back after decades in exile is Aaron Falk, a federal agent who has been avoiding his hometown with a vengeance. He intends to show his face at his former best friend’s funeral and then bolt out of there but of course he won’t. Falk has his own secrets that have bubbled back to the surface now that his friend Luke Hadler has apparently killed his wife and child before turning the gun on himself. Near blackmailed into investigating the case by the victim/criminal’s family, Falk soon finds that the present tragedy is entwined with his own repressed past. But why?
What unfolds is a Ross Macdonald-esque crime thriller that blends that master’s knack for imploding a closeknit community’s deadly secrets with a brilliantly memorable Australian locale. Kiewarra hasn’t seen a cloud for two years but it’s been drowning in sin for generations. The prospect of an outsider poking his nose around is a threat that can not be ignored. It’s this incendiary, Wicker Man style backbone that grants The Dry some genuine thrills and intrigue.
It’s hard to imagine that such an assured piece is the product of a first time novelist. This is the culmination of over a dozen years of journalism in the UK and Australia for Jane Harper whose nose for a juicy story is well honed as is her eye for detail.
Indeed, The Dry is a feast for the senses. You can almost choke on the heat that engulfs her disparate characters while you squint into the sun radiating from the bleached white pages as you rifle through them hoping that your own theories materialise into the twists that are sliced into Harper’s narrative like deep rivers replenishing barren lands.
Jane Harper is an author to watch – she’s got that old-school, near hardboiled quality to her approach that gives her story a timeless appeal. The Dry could be set in just about any time period but feels as vital today as it might have generations ago (and likely generations to come). Quite possibly the first great thriller of the year. This is instant vintage.
The Dry is out now in hardback via Little, Brown with a paperback edition scheduled for June 2017. My advice is grab the hardback before someone gives away the ending to you.