Review: THE DRY by Jane Harper, published by Little Brown
I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again many more times, but it’s worth putting in as an introduction for the first review of every year:
I do not review books I don’t like.
It is not because I am a particularly kind reviewer. No, there are two reasons for my reluctance to write about books I can’t stand.
First, there are far too many damn good books to review to waste my time writing up bad reviews or, worse, puffing a book I think is dreadful. So I won’t. If I say I like a book, you can be sure I mean it. If I sit down at 21.00 hours on a cold Wednesday evening, unpaid, I will only write about a book if I like it.
Second, however, is the flip side of the coin. By that I mean that my tastes are not necessarily the same as yours, Dear Reader. Books that I abhor, detest, deplore may well be the sort of story that you have been waiting for all your life. We all have different tastes, after all. I know this because I personally cannot stand James Patterson’s books. He won’t be upset by my stating that. I am sure that he has more than enough avid fans already. In fact I know he has. The fact that I just do not get on with his books is a mark of my judgement and my taste, which is not the same as that of the majority of the thriller-buying public if his sales are anything to go by.
So, I do not review books that I dislike. Every week I am sent books to read and review. The only ones that make it here, onto my blog, are the ones I really, really like.
Like this one.
Now that I have got that out of the way, let’s look at this book.
This story begins with a preface, which is the aftermath of the murders. For the squeamish, let me just say that this author knows how to keep the reader involved without the need for descriptions of bodies destroyed. Which is good, because this is a story of a shocking, hideous killing; it involves the murder of almost an entire family, all slaughtered by one madman with a shotgun. Worst of all is the fact that the killer was known to be Luke Hadler, the father and husband, who blew his own brains out a few yards away from his dead wife and son. I don’t want to be grossed-out in the first couple of pages, thank you. Jane Harper gives you enough to feel the horror and devastation, but without getting pointlessly involved, thankfully.
From here we move to the funeral, and here we meet the main character who will be at our side through this story: Aaron Falk. Falk is an interesting character. He was very pale, with white-blond hair, and he has been scarred by events of many years before, when he was a teenager. At the time, he was a close friend of Luke Hadler and two girls, Gretchen and Ellie. All submitted to Luke’s leadership generally, but after a falling out, Ellie drowned in the river. After that, there was a lot of bad feeling in the town, and the three were shunned by many in the small community. It was not helped that Aaron and Luke invented their own alibis to save being suspects. Eventually Ellie’s death was put down to suicide, but many thought that Aaron or Luke could have been involved. Aaron and his father moved to the city, where eventually Aaron joined the police. He never went back.
Aaron is always aware of his surroundings, of the undercurrents of violence and hatred that lie just under the surface of this seemingly close-knit community. But he is bound to the place by birth and by association with Luke’s parents. They are desperate for any indication that their lovely boy was not guilty of murdering his wife and son before committing suicide. Their desperation is the spur to Aaron to spend a little time, a weekend, checking things out. He’s not sure what he can achieve, because he’s a fraud investigator, whose motto has always been ‘Follow the money’, and he doesn’t know what he can do that the local police haven’t already, but he feels he owes his friend’s parents.
When he meets the local police sergeant, he finds a young man who has the motivation and enthusiasm to investigate what appears to be an open-and-shut case, and because of a couple of small inconsistencies, the two begin a serious enquiry that leads to some shocking revelations.
I can’t really say much more about the story without giving away elements. So instead I’ll say a few words about the writer.
I’ve never met Jane Harper and do not know her from … well, anyone. However, she has (according to her bio on the flyleaf) been a journalist in the UK and Australia. It shows. Her writing is polished, refined and quite spare in places, but for me, it brought me straight to the hot, dry climate of Australia in the middle of a drought. For her to achieve that while I was sitting in a cold, damp house in Dartmoor, was spectacular.
She has some fabulous touches with her writing. In one scene she describes a riverbed Aaron remembered from his childhood. He thought of it as a great sweep of water in which a teenager could drown, but now he’s returned, he doesn’t recognise it for some time, because it is a dry, dusty, dead course, a mere scar in the land. The way that the author sets out Aaron’s feelings on finding this was enormously touching. Similarly I was impressed with her ability to depict a teenager’s thinking, how bitchy young females can be, how anxious and fretful boys can be around girls. She can delve into their minds and bring them to life on the page.
Jane writes with an outsider’s perspicacity. She knows the locations she writes about, but she sees it all as a foreigner. For the reader, it means a deeper understanding. Whether she’s talking about a small town’s viciousness and cruelty, or describing the landscape, the reader is right there with the protagonists.
So, having said all that, was the book good?
If I am picky, there was one failing (for me). Not in the actual story, not in the timeline, and certainly not in the writing, yet there are conventions in crime writing. The Detection Club has a series of important rules that authors should adhere to, and Jane did not. Did that spoil the story for me? Yes … a little. But it’s the sort of thing that is noticed by other crime writers, not by the general reader. If you spot where I had a problem with the story, feel free to write to me. If you want to know what it was that grated, I’ll be happy to tell you – but not in the comments section here, because it would give away a bit of the story, and I don’t want to do that.
Why? Because this is a damn good book. I was gripped and enthralled from the first page. It is so rare for me to have that kind of response to a new writer, that I was surprised by my own reaction. I really, really loved this story.
So this is not just a ‘Highly Recommended’ story, this is a ‘You really do need to go and get a copy’. I loved it and I’m looking forward to the follow-up.