The Dry is the celebrated debut mystery novel by Jane Harper which won the Gold Dagger Award for best mystery novel of 2016 recently. This puts Harper in territory with other impressive writers in this genre whose work I have enjoyed (Val McDermid, Henning Mankell and Patricia Cornwell). Sadly, other favorites like Tana French, Stuart MacBride, Ian Rankin and Adrian McKinty have not done so (yet!)
I think The Dry is quite good, and somewhat reminiscent of another widely celebrated debut mystery, In The Woods (2010) by Tana French. The writing is similarly sumptuous and the story is bolstered by the strength of the characters and the description of the deep emotional ties that link them and strengthen the impact of the book on the reader.
In The Dry, there are two mysteries at the heart of the plot. Who brutally shot and killed Aaron Falk's former childhood best friend Luke Hadler along with Hadler's wife and son with a shotgun at close range? Does it have to do with the fact that 20-something years ago Luke lied to give his best friend an alibi for the mysterious death of their common friend Ellie Deacon who was at the apex of a complicated teen love triangle involving the two friends? Again this plot is reminiscent of French's debut where the main character is trying to solve a disappearance/murder of a child decades after he survived the murder/abduction of himself and his best friends. In Aaron's case, despite Luke's alibi the suspicion about his involvement in Ellie's death has hung over his head for years, especially since soon afterwards he and his dad were essentially run out of their small town by Ellie's dad, the town's most prominent citizen.
Despite winning the Gold Dagger I disagree that Harper's The Dry, is as devastatingly good a work of fiction as French's In The Woods. This doesn't mean Harper shouldn't have won the Gold Dagger, it is really a complaint that French has not won yet, and that she should have won for her debut as well.
Anyway one reason I think Harper's debut is inferior to French's is that there are definitely flaws in The Dry. For example, there are several aspects of the story which are easy to figure out, and the revelation of the killer of Luke and his family is presented in an almost matter-of-fact fashion after spending a few hundred pages misdirecting the reader with other clues and red herrings.
Despite its flaws, the book has very strong features as well. First among these is the sense of place in The Dry. It is set in Kiewarra, a very small town in the middle of nowhere in Australia which has been greatly impacted by a long-running drought. Secondly, the main character of Aaron Falk is interesting, and the back story of his life in Kiewarra and the connections he has to almost all the suspects and residents of the town add a frisson to the work.
Overall, I would agree that The Dry is an impressive debut but I would hesitate to declare this the best mystery I have read this year. However, I will definitely look forward to spending time with Aaron Falk, wherever his next (mis)adventure takes him. The second book, Force of Nature, should be out early in 2018.
Title: The Dry.
Author: Jane Harper.
Paperback: 336 pages.
Publisher: Flatiron Books.
Date Published: January 10, 2017.
Date Read: October 28, 2017.
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★ (4.0/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).