- Author: Jane Harper
- Published: June 2017 by Abacus
- Category: Crime, Thriller, Mystery, Book Review, Books, Reading
Luke Hadler turns a gun on his wife and child, then himself. The farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily. If one of their own broke under the strain, well…
The small town of Kiewarra is in the deadly grip of a drought. It hasn’t rained for two years and the community is under extreme pressure, becoming ever more scared and desperate, the oppressive heat wearing them down. Then Karen Hadler, and her young son, Billy, are found brutally murdered. Luke Hadler, dead in his truck, a suspected murder/suicide. In response to a note from Gerry Hadler, Luke’s father, ‘Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral,’ Federal Police Investigator Aaron Falk arrives back in Kiewarra after an absence of twenty years.
Falk is determined not to stay much longer than a day and while most of the townsfolk are less than happy to see him, there are several who are glad he’s there. The old suspicions surrounding Falk resurface and once again he is the focus of hostility and threats. His plans take an unexpected turn, however, after speaking to the new local policeman, Sergeant Greg Raco, and Falk finds himself reluctantly staying in Kiewarra much longer than he anticipated.
This book has been sitting on my shelf for several weeks. It was definitely worth the wait and only took the shocking prologue to grab my attention. The author has captured the mood and atmosphere perfectly, with vivid imagery. It’s all but tangible. The isolation of Kiewarra, coupled with the devastation and oppressiveness of the heat wave and the way it affects the small community. Even the school children’s drawings reflect the general feeling of disaster – ‘every face had a crayon mouth turned downward’ and a ‘painting of a cow with angel wings’
The huge river was nothing more than a dusty scar in the land. The empty bed stretched long and barren in either direction, its serpentine curves tracing the path where the water had flowed. The hollow that had been carved over centuries was now a cracked patchwork of rocks and crabgrass. Along the banks, gnarled grey tree roots were exposed like cobwebs.
The main mystery is interspersed with an older one brought to life with flashbacks, giving a good insight into past events, from when Luke and Aaron were teenagers. The rumours and speculation surrounding the death of one of their friends were the cause of Aaron and his father basically being run out of town.
The past and present blend seamlessly in the measured pace of the narrative. It’s a character driven story which unfolds believably, with the emotions and human frailties easily imagined in such a dire situation and rural setting, where there is no escape. Aaron Falk especially is a well fleshed out, sympathetic protagonist and the characterisations in general are very good and have an authentic feel.
Secrets, discoveries and lies are drip fed slowly as the dynamics of a small, insular town under threat play out. The compelling story is well structured with evocative writing, false leads and surprise reveals. I didn’t guess either outcome. An excellent debut novel. I’ll definitely be picking up Jane Harper’s next book, Force of Nature.
About the author
Jane Harper was born in Manchester in the UK, and moved to Australia with her family at age eight.
She spent six years in Boronia, Victoria, and during that time gained Australian citizenship.
Returning to the UK with her family as a teenager, she lived in Hampshire before studying English and History at the University of Kent in Canterbury.
On graduating, she completed a journalism entry qualification and got her first reporting job as a trainee on the Darlington & Stockton Times in County Durham.
Jane worked for several years as a senior news journalist for the Hull Daily Mail, before moving back to Australia in 2008.
She worked first on the Geelong Advertiser, and in 2011 took up a role with the Herald Sun in Melbourne.
In 2014, Jane submitted a short story which was one of 12 chosen for the Big Issue’s annual Fiction Edition.
That inspired her to pursue creative writing more seriously, and that year she applied for the Curtis Brown Creative online 12-week novel writing course.
She was accepted with a submission for the book that would become The Dry and wrote the first full draft during the three-month course.
Jane lives in St Kilda with her husband.