First on the scene, the flies swarmed contentedly in the heat as the blood pooled black over tiles and carpet.
Outside, washing hung still on the rotary line, bone dry and stiff from the sun. A child’s scooter lay abandoned on the stepping stone path. Just one human heart beat within a kilometre radius of the farm. So nothing reacted when deep inside the house, the baby started crying.
Jane Harper’s first novel is set in a small farming town, Kiewarra, a 5 hour drive from Melbourne with a triple murder, it seems that Luke Hadler took a shotgun to his wife and son in their remote farmhouse then drove of into the bush before blowing his own brains out, but it would seem that he forgot his baby daughter who as the opening quote tells us wakes up and begins crying. The background is the changing climate and the drought putting pressure on this farming community where there is no longer enough water to feed the cattle. Could Luke have had debt problems as his mother supposes?
Luke Hadler’s mother, Barb, wants his childhood friend Aaron Falk, now an officer with the Financial Intelligence Unit in Melbourne, and who has not been back to Kiewarra for 18 years, to look into the debt aspect. To get him to come back to the funeral, Gerry Hadler, Luke’s father sends him a short cryptic note:
The funeral was starting. Gerry inclined his head in a tiny nod and Falk unconsciously put his hand in his pocket. He felt the letter that had landed on his desk two days ago. From Gerry Hadler, eight words written with a heavy hand: Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral. It was Falk who looked away first.
As the funeral begins we understand that Aaron does not want to be in Kiewarra and that the farmers may not yet have recognised him:
‘You still live round this way, do you?’ The farmer shifted his large body slightly and fixed Falk properly in his gaze for the first time. ‘No. Not for a long time.’ ‘Right. Feels like I’ve seen you, though.’
We soon understand that on to this mystery is grafted another 18 year old mystery, the drowning of Ellie. Luke and Aaron, Ellie and Gretchen were friends, both in and out of school and then one day Ellie is found drowned with a note in her pocket, Falk’s name and the date. Nothing was ever proven but Falk and his father were run out of town.
Luke had given Aaron an alibi for the murder and at the time of course giving himself an alibi, Gerry had known as his note had said that Aaron had lied and wanted to know only one thing:
I have to know.’ ‘Know what?’ Gerry’s eyes looked almost black against the bright sunlight. ‘If Luke had killed before.’
And so the double mystery plays out against this small town background with this extra element of tenseness as everyone in Kiewarra is at the end of their tether due to the drought and as Aaron discovers, even the river where Ellie had drowned has dried up. A pleasant quick read.
First Published in English as “The Dry” in 2016 by Pan Macmillan Australia.