The Dry follows Aaron Falk, a small-town boy who fled the confines of rural life to become a police officer in the city of Melbourne, Australia. However Falk is haplessly forced to abandon his lonely tranquility when his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler, seemingly shoots and kills his wife and son before turning the barrel on himself. Falk reluctantly attends the funeral, returning to the community of Kiewarra that he escaped years before, and is dragged back into a cesspool of small-town secrets and bitterness as he tries to piece together just what happened on that fateful afternoon.
The Dry‘s small-town setting is a throwback to the classic whodunnit novel, offering a vivid and memorable ensemble of characters that even Agatha Christie would be proud of, and Harper captures the claustrophobic cabin-fever of rural life to remarkable effect. Kiewarra is a backwater village on the brink of ruin thanks to a drought that, literally, sucked the happiness and wealth out of the town, and Harper uses these mounting pressures to twist neighbour against neighbour until the reader doesn’t know who to trust. Meanwhile our main character, the unintentionally charming Aaron Falk, is an easily loveable hero that the reader will really root for.
The novel’s main narrative, told from the perspective of the story’s reluctant hero Falk, is frequently interjected with italicized ‘flashbacks’ to Falk’s troubled teenage years and, occasionally, to offer the perspective of different villagers. These segments seem to lack structure, occurring seemingly whenever Harper needs to explain a plot point, and is somewhat awkward at times. Though this gimmick helps move the plot along quickly, a more elegant and intelligent unfolding of an otherwise excellent story would have pushed the novel from an enjoyable but dime-a-dozen thriller to something more intelligent.
That being said, The Dry remains a remarkably addictive page-tuner and a top-of-the-class thriller that will keep you guessing ‘whodunnit’ until the very last page. The Dry is one to pick up on a summer weekend, and not put down until you’ve reached the thrilling climax on your Monday morning commute.
Overall Score: 7.6 out of 10