Despite just about everyone I know recommending this debut novel from Melbourne journalist Jane Harper, I’ve resisted reading it until now because the subject matter sounded so, ahem, dry. Somehow, out of all these recommendations, I’d managed to pick up that the book is about a drought-ravaged community in regional Victoria and totally miss the fact that it is also a chilling mystery.

When a farming family is found dead, after an apparent murder-suicide at the hands of the father Luke Hadley, Luke’s childhood best friend Aaron Falk returns to Kiewarra for the funeral. Having left town under a cloud when he was 16, Aaron is now a federal policeman. He is also counting down the hours until he can go back to his tidy life investigating financial crimes in Melbourne.

But things quickly get messy when Luke’s parents ask Aaron to stay and clear his name. As Aaron starts to dig into the circumstances surrounding the recent deaths, history begins to catch up with him in the form of troubling flashbacks.

With tension building in the small town, the drought is an inescapable, menacing presence. The river is a dusty scar on the landscape. Once-green pasture crackles in the heat. Animals lie dead in paddocks. On the town’s main street, formerly thriving shops show blank faces to passers-by.

I’ve yet to finish The Dry (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2017) but I completely understand why it comes so highly recommended. No spoilers please!

By Ylla Watkins

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