The Dry by Jane Harper

I downloaded this as an audiobook on Libby, which is the app that allows you to borrow ebooks and audiobooks using your library membership.

The problem with Libby and audiobooks is that the availability is patchy. Some titles by quite prominent authors are just not available, and those that are have artificial limitations placed on them as to how many people can borrow at once.

Which is how I ended up downloading The Dry, which I’d seen reviews of, but wasn’t sure I’d enjoy. Turns out, it was pretty good, if a little bit formulaic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with genre formulae of course (that’s why we like genres), but sometimes the tropes just make you tired if you aren’t in the mood for them.

Item: cop returns to his home town after decades away and gets a hostile reception. Item: said hostile reception is because of an unresolved Something That Happened A Long Time Ago. Item: current visit is because an old friend (Or Was He?) has died in Mysterious Circumstances.

So that’s the kind of thing, which combined with the Australian setting, just makes you kind of roll your eyes.

But as with all genre pieces, it’s all in the execution, and the execution is good. Aaron Falk, a federal agent specialising in financial crime, returns to his home town for his former best friend’s funeral. The friend has apparently killed his wife and son and then turned the gun on himself in the midst of a catastrophic drought. The whole town is on edge, and then Falk turns up: a man suspected of involvement in the death of a 16-year-old girl 20 years earlier.

Falk stays in a local pub, and endures the hostility of the locals for the sake of his friend’s family, who want him to look into the apparently open and shut case of the murder-suicide. And so he stays a little longer than he intended, encountering old friends and enemies, but also forming a kind of partnership with the local cop, an outsider with no axe to grind.

There is the usual array of stock characters here: the attractive woman who-might-have-been; the embittered family of the dead girl; the hostile neighbours of the murder family; and the town itself – almost dried up and blown away, a spark away from catastrophe.


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