The Dry is a competent and engaging mystery thriller that’s set in a small farming community in Australia. It’s one of those books where the setting is as much of a character as the human characters, as the oppressive heat and dust provoke malevolent despair in the residents, which in turn breeds violence. The climate was also quite evocative for me as the reader, especially being here in California, where we have experienced a bit of drought ourselves.
Goodreads summary: “After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.
Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see whether there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them, and Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.”
I don’t read a lot of books from the mystery/crime genre, but when I do, there are a few things the books can do to recommend themselves to me. One is that when the characters are flat, undeveloped noir templates without further embellishment to make them stand out, I roll my eyes and don’t really care what ends up happening, partly because I already know what’s going to happen (the femme fatale seduces the gumshoe and then pivots him into danger, either intentionally or just as a victim in her wake, and then he uses his wits and moxie to find a way out of it despite being like two thousand years old and jaded and about to give up anyway.) I’m also quickly losing interest in male anti-heroes who are super damaged and treat everyone like garbage. The Dry avoids these problems nicely: Falk definitely has trouble in his past, but he seems like a fundamentally upstanding person who understands the value of working with one’s fellow man, instead of being a lone operator who solves crime despite the meddling of everyone else. He’s also good at his job, but isn’t portrayed as some kind of savant. He’s a normal guy who has to put the pieces together just like anyone else.
The book must also walk the balance between telling me too much or telling me nothing: I don’t want to figure out who did it and why too early for obvious reasons, but I also don’t want the answer to be so opaque that the reader never could have guessed in a million years, and the author just pulled it out of their tuchus. This book did well on both criteria. I did not guess the answer, and at first it does seem like it comes from nowhere, but upon reflection, there is sufficient foreshadowing to point the reader toward that direction if s/he knew when to look for it.
In short, this was a quick, tight little mystery, and if that’s your style I recommend it.