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Friday 30 December 2016

‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper

Published by Little, Brown,
12 January 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-4087

Aaron Falk returns to the birthplace from which he was hounded twenty years earlier, to attend the funeral of his childhood friend.

Luke, the friend, has apparently murdered his wife and son and committed suicide. But Aaron doesn’t quite buy it, and nor do Luke’s parents, or the local cop. Aaron reluctantly lets himself become involved in a semi-official investigation, which generates bad memories and bad blood, but makes him even more dubious about the murder-suicide verdict.

That’s the premise behind this highly assured, award-winning debut by an Australian journalist. It’s well-crafted, carefully paced and intricate, with clues subtly placed and one of the best pieces of misdirection I’ve encountered in a crime novel for a long time.

And that’s not all. Jane Harper has also recreated the tense, oppressive atmosphere of a small Australian town in trouble with the kind of skill many far more experienced novelists fail to exhibit. The book’s title refers to the fact that the bushland farming community has had no rain for two years; the temperature regularly hits 40 degrees centigrade and the risk of life-changing wildfires is ever-present. Tempers are stretched and farms are failing, and under the circumstances murder and suicide become all too possible.

Characters good and not so good are never less than human: damaged rather than intrinsically evil, flawed even when they’re clearly innocent and even the minor players are rounded and vividly drawn. Raco, the local cop, has a great deal more insight than many in similar jobs. Aaron, now a fraud detective, has skills that prove unexpectedly useful, but finds himself obsessed by the incident decades earlier which resulted in him and his father fleeing to the city.

Almost everyone has a secret, as befits the best crime novels, and some prove more surprising than others. In fact, it’s a story full of surprises, and also well-constructed and well written, either from good research or from sound knowledge of the world the characters inhabit.

On this showing, Jane Harper is a writer to watch. She richly deserves the acclaim The Dry has attracted.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Jane Harper was born in Manchester in the UK, and moved to Australia with her family at age eight. She spent six years in Boronia, Victoria, and during that time gained Australian citizenship. Returning to the UK with her family as a teenager, she lived in Hampshire before studying English and History at the University of Kent in Canterbury. On graduating, she completed a journalism entry qualification and got her first reporting job as a trainee on the Darlington & Stockton Times in County Durham. Jane worked for several years as a senior news journalist for the Hull Daily Mail, before moving back to Australia in 2008. She worked first on the Geelong Advertiser, and in 2011 took up a role with the Herald Sun in Melbourne. In 2014, Jane submitted a short story which was one of 12 chosen for the Big Issue's annual Fiction Edition. That inspired her to pursue creative writing more seriously, and that year she applied for the Curtis Brown Creative online 12-week novel writing course. She was accepted with a submission for the book that would become The Dry and wrote the first full draft during the three-month course. Jane lives in St Kilda with her husband and daughter.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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