I received The Dry in exchange for an honest review.
I love a good psychological thriller. And The Dry, I’m happy to say, is a perfect example of the genre at its best. I saw another reviewer ask ‘What’s debut-ish about this debut novel?’ The answer has to be nothing. Australian debut author Jane Harper has given us a book which is tense, atmospheric and truly difficult to put down.
Let’s first talk about the setting. The Australian outback, a quiet farm town suffering an inordinately long drought “Officially the worst conditions in a century”. It’s so well-written the tension is palpable, the scene visceral. Add to this a family murder-suicide and things start to get interesting.
Federal Police Investigator Aaron Falk returns to his small hometown after twenty years for the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke. He intends to stay for a day but quickly gets drawn into the mystery surrounding three deaths. Did his friend really crack under the pressure of the drought and take a gun to himself, his wife and his son? Or was something else going on?
Harper gradually reveals the secrets of the small town, with segments dating back decades to the protagonist’s teenage years, a young woman’s suicide and the reason he had to leave the town in such a hurry at age 16. She keeps the reader in suspense about events of the past and present and if they were even linked at all. I was constantly changing my mind reading this novel, never sure who to trust.
Around the halfway point, I did find myself wondering why such a strong female author seemed to have made her novel so male-orientated, with a strong lead in Falk and female characters like Luke’s wife Karen and Falk’s childhood friend Gretchen quite one-dimensional. It felt like it was constantly reiterated how perfect and attractive they were. But as the story progressed and things fell into place, I realised that what the author had actually done was create a smokescreen, distracting me from how crucial these characters were to the plot.
The Dry is a tense, clever debut with incredibly well-drawn characters and setting which make it a pleasure to read. It really doesn’t surprise me that it’s already won awards and a film is in the pipeline, and I’m sure it will be as big a hit in the UK and US on release as it has been in Australia. I’ll be looking out for more from this exciting new voice in psychological thrillers.