“It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before…”

The Dry by Jane Harper

This was another pick-off-the-shelves-at-the-bookstore book. I had this book sitting on my bookshelf for a while and I can’t say for sure when and where I actually bought it. I suspect it was when we were still living in Sydney, the second time around.

That’s what happens with books you buy, isn’t it? You put off reading them because they are always there. You read the library books and Bookclub books first, because those actually have a deadline. Personally I find I have that attitude with everything else in my life: if I’m sure it’s going to be sticking around, I tend to neglect it for something else that is only temporary.

On to the book. This was another gripping novel for me. I wanted to read it every free moment I had. It obviously had a great hook and there was a double mystery. A double whodunit. And true to a whodunit novel, we were led in various directions through out the novel as the story unfolded and the secrets of a small town came tumbling out.

While I really enjoyed reading this book, I was a bit annoyed at how obvious the writer’s attempt to lead us astray was. When I read these whodunit novels now, I end up comparing them to Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. That was a whodunit novel that really had me guessing, but the guiding hand of the author was not so obvious then.

One of my favourite things about this novel was how Harper brought attention to some serious issues faced by Australia by weaving them into an entertaining crime novel. Drought and domestic abuse. I feel that she did this without “preaching” on these issues, which is a method I prefer when I read novels. Perhaps we can attribute this method of story-telling to her journalistic background: report the facts and leave your personal opinions out of it. I like reading authors who can do this as I feel free to formulate my own opinions rather than finding myself hating the dictating voice of the author. A clear example I can think of is The Ballad of Banjo Crossing by Tess Evans, another book I read recently. In Banjo Crossing, I constantly found myself curling my lip at the tone of the author. Some of the beliefs Evans held felt like it was forcefully being crammed down my throat. It annoyed me.

Reading about a farming town in Australia and the fallout from two years of drought made me consider things I have never consider before. The entire town suffers, and not just industry, but everything. The school can run out of money. Doctors and other essential professionals can leave. It’s truly terrifying the effects drought can have on farming towns. I feel humbled learning this from this novel. I like how the drought was made a real villain in this novel.

As for characters–I liked them. I kept seeing the lead agent from Criminal Minds (also named Aaron) as Falk. But this is really only because both are named Aaron and both are federal police. The characters felt real to me.

I would absolutely read another book by Harper. In fact I’ve already looked up the second book in the Falk series.

Re-read material: I would not read this book a second time, mostly because what I found gripping was the plot, and not exactly the language. It was not poorly written, but it’s not poetic, which it obviously doesn’t have to be. I just don’t think there’s much need to re-read a whodunit novel when you already know who’s actually “dun it”.

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