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 It won the Victorian Premier’s Literacy award for an unpublished manuscript in 2015.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.