The Dry by Jane Harper is a solid, suspenseful mystery from beginning to end.
Federal Agent Aaron Falk would have skipped the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler, and his murdered family, if not for the note Luke’s father sent him: “Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.” Worried, Aaron reluctantly returns to the hometown he left decades ago.
Kiewarra, an isolated farming community, has been stricken by a severe drought, and the town and its inhabitants are struggling. The dryness and heat permeate the novel and contribute to a sense of desolation and claustrophobia. And Harper’s spare, no-frills writing style complements the characters and the setting.
Most people blame the drought for Luke’s horrible act of murder-suicide, but his parents and the local policeman, Greg Raco, believe the evidence doesn’t add up. Luke’s father thinks the past may have played a role and wants Aaron to investigate.
As Aaron and Raco dig deeper, there are many red herrings and false leads. Almost everyone in town has something to hide, and tension follows Aaron wherever he goes. The story is told from Aaron’s POV, so the reader receives the clues the same time he does, so it’s not a mystery that can be solved by the reader before the end (without a lot of guessing), but everything fits by the conclusion.
Italicized flashback passages are randomly interspersed throughout Aaron's story. While the flashbacks give the reader necessary information, they often feel intrusive and forced, especially when they alternate quickly with the present.
Another quibble is that, at times, the book has almost a paint-by-numbers feeling, like it followed a plotting chart instead of flowing organically. But that’s a minor complaint because the plot does work.
The Dry is a strong debut and I’m eager to read her next book, Force of Nature.