Tag Archives: Crime fiction

The Dry by Jane Harper


It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before, and the blowflies didn’t discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse…

The body in the clearing was the freshest. It took the flies slightly longer to discover the two in the farmhouse, despite the front door swinging open like an invitation. Those that ventured beyond the initial offering in the hallway were rewarded with another, this time in the bedroom. This one was smaller, but less engulfed by competition.

First on the scene, the flies swarmed contentedly in the heat as the blood pooled black over tiles and carpet. Outside, washing hung still on the rotary line, bone dry and stiff from the sun. A child’s scooter lay abandoned on the stepping stone path. Just one human heart beat within a kilometre radius of the farm

So nothing reacted when deep inside the house, the baby started crying.

And so begins the exceptional Australian crime debut from Jane Harper.  With a quintessentially outback flavour, and some common characteristics of a crime thriller: family secrets, teenage mistakes, country town prejudices, a gritty cop with a hidden past; the novel is never pedestrian or cliché.

In the small drought stricken town of Kiewarra, the community is reeling from the shocking Hadler family murder-suicide.  The thought that a decent bloke like Luke Hadler could have been driven to such despair and murder his wife and young son exposes just how fragile anyone out here in the dry really is.  He was one of them.

Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to Kiewarra to attend the funeral of his childhood friend Luke.  A city cop who moved away from the town as an ousted teen, Falk has intentions to stay just long enough to pay his respects, but Luke’s parents urge him to investigate the case.  Whilst the townsfolk are convinced this is an open and shut murder-suicide, pieces begin to unravel causing Falk and the local police investigator to doubt the facts before them.  Soon Falk finds himself trying to untangle two crimes that occurred twenty years apart; with Luke at the centre of both.

There is much hype surrounding Harper’s The Dry.  It won the Victorian Premier’s Literacy award for an unpublished manuscript in 2015.  Rights have been sold in over 20 territories.  There is to be an adaptation into a Hollywood film.  And all the accolades are deserved.

The storyline is a genuine who-dunnit – a classy crime debut that makes you feel scorn and secrets of a small town community, and scratch the sweat and grime of the outback heat from your skin.

In short: Incredible Australian writing; atmospheric, gritty and a proper mystery to the end.





SPEED REVIEW: The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

the-broken-shoreA clever and compelling Australian crime novel that has all the hallmarks of an award winner. (Gold Dagger) I’d not read Temple before and found his style unique but comfortable, direct, sophisticated and implicit.

Set in a small country town, Homicide Detective Joe Cashen has been removed from his post in the big city of Melbourne to recover after a serious and scarring injury. Surrounded by small town cops, and challenged by corruption, racism and politics, he investigates the death of a wealthy local man.

The plot itself is fast paced, authentically Australian, with grit and an underlying ‘outback’ feel to it. Cashen, is incredibly likeable and understated, with many flaws and foibles. There is something stoic, bordering on heroic, about his presence.

In Short: Grimy and Genuine

Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah (Audio read by Julia Barrie)

kind of cruel9780340980705When a crime novel promises to be a psychological thriller, with twists and plot changes to surprise you, how often are you disappointed?  How often does the killer end up having split personality disorder, or some kind of creepy childhood trauma that led them to seek revenge?  I get a kick out of predicting who the baddie is on screen.  I always try to out-mentalise Simon Baker, and guess which of his suspects the killer is.  But in a book, I want to be left wondering and questioning the motive until the very end.  I hate it when I can guess what the outcome might be.  I hate it when the psychological element is just about one character, and is an easy excuse for the author to wind up the plot.

Kind of Cruel is not that book.  Kind of Cruel is quite possibly the best damn psychological crime thriller I’ve ever encountered.  It has so many layers to its characters, each of them with their own mental demons, and Sophie Hannah has dedicated valuable chapters and word count to develop each of their back stories, quirks and faults which makes them all integral to the plot.

We meet Amber Hewerdine as she tries to talk herself into attending a hypnotherapy appointment.  It is her last resort to curing chronic insomnia, and she’s cynical and mocking before even going inside.  I instantly liked her.  She is self-deprecating, opinionated, with a dry wit that really tickled my fancy.

On the count of three,’ I imagine saying to myself in my best deep hypnotic voice, ‘you will get out of your car, go into that house across the road and pretend to be in a trance for an hour.  You will then write a cheque for seventy quid to a charlatan.  It’ll be ace.

Amber never imagined that the therapy would actually help her sleeplessness.  But she also never imagined speaking the words ‘Kind, cruel, kind of cruel,’ while under hypnosis, and she has no idea why she said them, though they are strangely familiar.

And so begins a cracker of a case, as Amber discovers the words are related to a local murder of young school teacher Katharine Allen, a woman she has never heard of.  With no other leads or suspects, Amber is arrested.

The story moves from the first person of ‘I,’ Amber, and also jumps into the third person to reveal other relevant characters, including Amber’s extended family, and the detectives working the case. All of whom are completely three dimensional and pivotal in their own way.

Amber’s past unravels slowly, and memories of her history surface. The notion of a memory is questioned, and the way in which a memory is retold (often with modifications and analysis to create a ‘story’) is explored thoroughly.

What is original and cool about the structure of the novel, is that each chapter is bookended by the narration of the hypnotherapist – who has a special insight into several of the characters, and her interpretation of events and psychoanalysis of the people involved is fascinating, surprising and tantalising as they gradually emerge.

I enjoyed this book to the last moment, and was left scratching my head and revisiting all I had learned in search for more clues.  There were moments of brutal honesty that left me uncomfortable, but ultimately the motive was unapparent throughout and even after digesting it – I’m still surprised.

In Short:  The thinking crime reader’s crumpet. Just effing read it.