Set in a small farming town in rural Australia, The Dry follows two murder cases, one from twenty years back when Aaron lived in the town with his father, and in present day as Aaron has come back to town for the first time to attend the funeral of his former best friend, Luke Hadler, who in addition to killing himself, also murdered his wife and small son, leaving his baby daughter. The tragedy has disheartened the already down on its luck town, hurting badly from a long drought, to the point of breaking. Luke’s parents, who Aaron has always liked, ask him to look into the case, as they think there’s a chance that Luke didn’t do it, and was framed, most likely due to money reasons. They are worried that the farm was about to go under and Luke might have taken drastic action that got him in trouble, but almost anything would be better than their only son’s memory being tarnished by a murder-suicide. Aaron takes the case.
Since Aaron and his father were run out of town twenty years earlier because the town pinned the murder of a young girl on one or both of them, Aaron’s stay in his old hometown is filled with conflict, both understated and overtly hostile. That hostility, along with the dry, smoldering town, lend the book this dreadful urgency. You can feel everyone grasping at straws, trying to find the thing that will make things better. The small town atmosphere has become a powder keg, and that lent the book a tension that made it unputdownable.
One curious choice the author made is the way she uses flashbacks, which are interspersed throughout the book at random intervals, essentially as a way to dive deeper into insights we’ve gleaned through the main narrative, and these flashbacks are not from Aaron, but from many characters, and we’re right inside their heads. I liked the way the information imparted in the flashbacks affected the story, but it was also sort of an awkward way to structure a book. I’m not sure quite how to explain it, but they felt intrusive rather than a natural extension of the narrative. Still, one flaw in the whole book. Overall, this was great.
I’ve actually owned a copy of this for years, ever since it started making the rounds. I’m glad I was able to finally get around to it, and I’ll definitely be checking out her other books.