A small town hides big secrets in The Dry, an atmospheric, page-turning mystery by New York Times bestselling author Jane Harper.
Everyday life in one small, rural town is about to take a shocking turn. . .
Federal agent Aaron Falk hasn’t been back to the place where he grew up ever since he and his father were run out of town twenty years ago. Even now, when Falk first gets word that his childhood best friend Luke is dead, he has no intention of going back. But then he gets a note: Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral. And, just like that, Falk is swept back into the world he vowed to leave behindfor good.
Back in his hometown, Falk is asked by Luke’s parents to find the truth about what really happened to their son. Because something about the stories people are telling about Luke just doesn’t add up. . .Soon, amid the worst drought in a century, a series of long-buried mysteries rises to the surface. Falk knows that lifeand deathis never quite as it appears. Still, nothing could have prepared him for this. . .
“Devastating…riveting.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Thrilling. . .pays off on every level.”Shelf Awareness
“One of the most stunning debuts I’ve ever read.”David Baldacci
“A breathless page-turner, driven by the many revelations Ms. Harper dreams up…You’ll love [her] sleight of hand…A secret on every page.” The New York Times
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By Jane Harper
Flatiron BooksCopyright © 2016 Jane Harper
All rights reserved.
Even those who didn't darken the door of the church from one Christmas to the next could tell there would be more mourners than seats. A bottleneck of black and gray was already forming at the entrance as Aaron Falk drove up, trailing a cloud of dust and cracked leaves.
Neighbors, determined but trying not to appear so, jostled each other for the advantage as the scrum trickled through the doors. Across the road the media circled.
Falk parked his sedan next to a pickup truck that had also seen better days and killed the engine. The air conditioner rattled into silence, and the interior began to warm immediately. He allowed himself a moment to scan the crowd, although he didn't really have time. He'd dragged his heels the whole way from Melbourne, blowing out the five-hour drive to more than six. Satisfied no one looked familiar, he stepped out of the car.
The late-afternoon heat draped itself around him like a blanket. He snatched opened the backseat door to get his jacket, searing his hand in the process. After the briefest hesitation, he grabbed his hat from the seat. Wide-brimmed in stiff brown canvas, it didn't go with his funeral suit. But with skin the blue hue of skim milk for half the year and a cancerous-looking cluster of freckles the rest, Falk was prepared to risk the fashion faux pas.
Pale from birth with close-cropped, white-blond hair and invisible eyelashes, he'd often felt during his thirty-six years that the Australian sun was trying to tell him something. It was a message easier to ignore in the tall shadows of Melbourne than in Kiewarra, where shade was a fleeting commodity.
Falk glanced once at the road leading back out of town, then at his watch. The funeral, the wake, one night and he was gone. Eighteen hours, he calculated. No more. Keeping that firmly in mind, he loped toward the crowd, one hand on his hat as a sudden hot gust sent hems flying.
Inside, the church was even smaller than he'd remembered. Shoulder to shoulder with strangers, Falk allowed himself to be ferried deeper into the congregation. He noticed a free spot along the wall and darted in, carving out a space next to a farmer whose cotton shirt strained taut across his belly. The man gave him a nod and went back to staring straight ahead. Falk could see creases at his elbows where the shirtsleeves had until recently been rolled up.
Falk removed his hat and discreetly fanned himself. He couldn't help glancing around. Faces that at first had seemed unfamiliar came more sharply into focus, and he felt an illogical rush of surprise at some of the crow's-feet, silver-streaked hair, and gained kilos sprinkled throughout the crowd.
An older man two rows back caught Falk's eye with a nod, and they exchanged a sad smile of recognition. What was his name? Falk tried to remember. He couldn't focus. The man had been a teacher. Falk could just about picture him at the front of a classroom, gamely attempting to bring geography or woodwork or something else alive for bored teenagers, but the memory kept flitting away.
The man nodded at the bench beside him, indicating he would make space, but Falk shook his head politely and turned back to the front. He avoided small talk at the best of times, and this, unquestionably, was a million horrific miles from the best of times.
God, that middle coffin was small. Lying between the two full-size ones only made it look worse. If that were possible. Tiny kids with combed hair plastered to their skulls pointed it out: Dad, look. That box is in football colors. Those old enough to know what was inside stared in appalled silence, fidgeting in their school uniforms as they edged a little closer to their mothers.
Above the three coffins, a family of four stared down from a blown-up photograph. Their static smiles were overlarge and pixelated. Falk recognized the picture from the news. It had been used a lot.
Beneath, the names of the dead were spelled out in native flowers. Luke. Karen. Billy.
Falk stared at Luke's picture. The thick black hair had the odd gray line now, but he still looked fitter than most men on the wrong side of thirty-five. His face seemed older than Falk remembered, but then it had been nearly five years. The confident grin was unchanged, as was the slightly knowing look in his eyes. Still the same, were the words that sprang to mind. Three coffins said differently.
"Bloody tragic." The farmer at Falk's side spoke out of nowhere. His arms were crossed, fists wedged tightly under his armpits.
"It is," Falk said.
"You knew 'em well?"
"Not really. Only Luke, the —" For a dizzy moment Falk couldn't think of a word to describe the man in the largest coffin. He mentally grasped about but could find only clichéd tabloid descriptions.
"The father," he landed on finally. "We were friends when we were younger."
"Yeah. I know who Luke Hadler is."
"I think everyone does now."
"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." The farmer frowned, trying to place him. "Hey, you're not one of them bloody TV journos, are you?"
"No. Police. In Melbourne."
"That right? You lot should be investigating the bloody government for letting things get this bad." The man nodded to where Luke's body lay alongside those of his wife and six-year-old son. "We're out here trying to feed this country, worst weather in a hundred years, and they're crapping on about scrapping the subsidies. In some ways you can hardly blame the poor bastard. It's a fu —" He stopped. Looked around the church. "It's an effing scandal, that's what it is."
Falk said nothing as they both reflected on the incompetencies of Canberra. The potential sources of blame for the dead Hadler family had been thrashed out at length over broadsheet pages.
"You looking into this, then?" The man nodded toward the coffins.
"No. Just here as a friend," Falk said. "I'm not sure there's anything still to look into."
He knew only what he'd heard on the news along with everyone else. But it was straightforward according to the commentary. The shotgun had belonged to Luke. It was the same one later found clamped into what had been left of his mouth.
"No. I suppose not," the farmer said. "I just thought, with him being your friend and all."
"I'm not that kind of officer, anyway. Federal. With the financial intelligence unit."
"Means nothing to me, mate."
"Just means I chase the money. Anything ending with a few zeros that's not where it should be. Laundered, embezzled, that sort of thing."
The man said something in reply, but Falk didn't hear him. His gaze had shifted from the three coffins to the mourners in the front pew. The space reserved for family. So they could sit in front of all their friends and neighbors, who could in turn stare at the backs of their heads and thank God it wasn't them.
It had been twenty years, but Falk recognized Luke's father straightaway. Gerry Hadler's face was gray. His eyes appeared sunken into his head. He was sitting dutifully in his spot in the front row, but his head was turned. He was ignoring his wife sobbing by his side and the three wooden boxes holding the remains of his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. Instead, he was staring directly at Falk.
Somewhere up the back, a few notes of music piped out from speakers. 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.
* * *
It was hard to watch the photographs. They flashed up on a screen at the front of the church in a relentless montage. Luke celebrating as an under-tens footballer; a young Karen jumping a pony over a fence. There was something grotesque now about the frozen grins, and Falk saw he wasn't the only one averting his gaze.
The photo changed again, and Falk was surprised to recognize himself. A fuzzy image of his eleven-year-old face looked out at him. He and Luke were side by side, bare-chested and openmouthed as they displayed a small fish on a line. They seemed happy. Falk tried to remember the picture being taken. He couldn't.
The slide show continued. Pictures of Luke, then Karen, each smiling like they'd never stop, and then there was Falk again. This time, he felt his lungs squeeze. From the low murmur that rippled through the crowd, he knew he wasn't the only one shaken by the image.
A younger version of himself stood with Luke, now both long-limbed and freckled with acne. Still smiling, but this time part of a foursome. Luke's arm was slung around the slim teenage waist of a girl with baby-blond hair. Falk's hand hovered more cautiously over the shoulder of a second girl with long black hair and darker eyes.
Falk could not believe that photo was being shown. He shot a look at Gerry Hadler, who was staring straight ahead, his jaw set. Falk felt the farmer next to him shift his weight and move a calculated half step away. The penny had dropped for him, Falk thought.
He forced himself to look back at the image. At the foursome. At the girl by his side. He watched those eyes until they faded from the screen. Falk remembered that picture being taken. One afternoon near the end of a long summer. It had been a good day. And it had been one of the last photos of the four of them together. Two months later the dark-eyed girl was dead.
Luke lied. You lied.
Falk stared down at the floor for a full minute. When he looked back, time had moved on, and Luke and Karen were smiling with stiff formality on their wedding day. Falk had been invited. He tried to remember what excuse he'd offered for not attending. Work, almost certainly.
The first pictures of Billy began to appear. Red-faced as a baby, then with a full head of hair as a toddler. Already looking a bit like his dad. Standing in shorts by a Christmas tree. The family dressed up as a trio of monsters, their face paint cracking around their smiles. Fast-forward a few years, and an older Karen was cradling another newborn to her breast.
Charlotte. The lucky one. No name spelled out in flowers for her. As if on cue, Charlotte, now thirteen months old, began to wail from her front-row spot on her grandmother's lap. Barb Hadler clutched the girl tighter to her chest with one arm, jiggling with a nervous rhythm. With her other hand she pressed a tissue to her face.
Falk, no expert on babies, wasn't sure if Charlotte recognized her mother on the screen. Or perhaps she was just pissed off at being included in the memorial when she was still very much alive. She'd get used to it, he realized. She didn't have much choice. Not many places to hide for a kid destined to grow up with the label "lone survivor."
The last strains of music faded away, and the final photos flashed up to an awkward silence. There was a feeling of collective relief when someone turned on the lights. As an overweight chaplain struggled up the two steps to the lectern, Falk stared again at those dreadful coffins. He thought about the dark-eyed girl and about a lie forged and agreed on twenty years ago as fear and teenage hormones pounded through his veins.
Luke lied. You lied.
How short was the road from that decision to this moment? The question ached like a bruise.
As an older woman in the crowd turned her gaze away from the front, her eyes landed on Falk. He didn't know her, but she gave an automatic nod of polite recognition. Falk looked away. When he glanced back, she was still staring. Her eyebrows suddenly puckered into a frown, and she turned to the elderly woman next to her. Falk didn't need to be able to lip-read to know what she whispered.
The Falk boy's back.
The second woman's eyes darted to his face, then immediately away. With a tiny nod she confirmed her friend's suspicion. She leaned over and whispered something to the woman on her other side. An uneasy weight settled in Falk's chest. He checked his watch. Seventeen hours. Then he was gone. Again. Thank God.CHAPTER 2
"Aaron Falk, don't you bloody dare leave."
Falk was standing by his car, fighting the urge to get in and drive away. Most of the mourners had already set off on the short trudge to the wake. Falk turned at the voice and, despite himself, broke into a smile.
"Gretchen," he said as the woman pulled him into a hug, her forehead pressed against his shoulder. He rested his chin on her blond head, and they stood there for a long minute, rocking back and forth.
"Oh my God, I'm so glad to see you here." Her voice was muffled by his shirt.
"How are you?" he asked when she pulled away. Gretchen Schoner shrugged as she slipped off a pair of cheap sunglasses to reveal reddened eyes.
"Not good. Bad, really. You?"
"You certainly look the same." She managed a shaky smile. "Still working the albino look, I see."
"You haven't changed much either."
She gave a small snort, but her smile firmed. "In twenty years? Come on."
Falk wasn't just being flattering. Gretchen was still entirely recognizable from the photo of the teenage foursome that had flashed up during the service.
The waist Luke had thrown his arm around was a little thicker now, and the baby-blond hair might have been helped by a bottle, but the blue eyes and high cheekbones were pure Gretchen. Her formal trousers and top were a shade tighter than traditional funeral attire, and she moved a little uneasily in the outfit. Falk wondered if it was borrowed or just seldom worn.
Gretchen was looking him over with the same scrutiny, and as their eyes met, she laughed. She looked lighter, younger.
"Come on." She reached out and squeezed his forearm. Her palm felt cool against his skin. "The wake's at the community center. We'll get it over with together."
As they started down the road, she called out to a small boy who was poking something with a stick. He looked up and reluctantly abandoned what he was doing. Gretchen held out a hand, but the child shook his head and trotted in front, swinging his stick like a sword.
"My son, Lachie," Gretchen said, glancing sideways at Falk.
"Right. Yes." It took Falk a moment to remember that the girl he'd known was now a mother. "I heard you'd had a baby."
"Heard from who? Luke?"
"Must have been," Falk said. "A while ago now, though. Obviously. How old is he?"
"Only five, but already the ringleader half the time."
They watched as Lachie thrust his makeshift sword into invisible attackers. He had wide-set eyes and curly hair the color of dirt, but Falk couldn't see much of Gretchen in the boy's sharp features. He scrambled to recall if Luke had mentioned her being in a relationship or who the boy's father was. He thought not. He liked to think he'd have remembered that. Falk glanced down at Gretchen's left hand. It was ringless, but that didn't mean much these days.
"How's family life treating you?" he said finally, fishing.
"It's OK. Lachie can be a bit of a handful," Gretchen said in an undertone. "And it's just him and me. But he's a good kid. And we get by. For now, anyway."
"Your parents still have their farm?"
She shook her head. "God, no. They retired and sold up about eight years ago now. Moved to Sydney and bought a tiny unit three streets away from my sister and her kids." She shrugged. "They say they like it. City life. Dad does Pilates apparently."
Falk couldn't help smiling at the image of the plain-speaking Mr. Schoner focusing on his inner core and breathing exercises.
"You weren't tempted to follow?" he said.
She gave a humorless laugh and gestured at the parched trees lining the road. "And leave all this? No. I've been here too long; it's in the blood. You know what it's like." She bit the sentence short and glanced sideways. "Or maybe you don't. Sorry."
Falk dismissed the remark with a wave of his hand. "What are you doing these days?"
"Farming, of course. Trying to, anyway. I bought the Kellerman place a couple of years back. Sheep."
"Really?" He was impressed. That was a sought-after property. Or at least it had been when he was younger.
"And you?" she said. "I heard you went into the police."
"Yeah. I did. Federal. Still there." They walked on in silence for a way. The frenetic birdsong coming from the trees sounded the same as he remembered. Up ahead, groups of mourners stood out like smudges against the dusty road.
Excerpted from The Dry by Jane Harper. Copyright © 2016 Jane Harper. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a very enjoyable first book - a page turner for sure. Well developed characters and a surprise ending that I didn't guess. I look very forward to more by this author.
I don't usually review but this book was truly outstanding. I could hardly put my Nook Book down. I look forward to more of the author's writing.
Did we read the same book? Nothing happens until the last few chapters. Glad I only borrowed.
It's hard to believe a first novel could be this good although Jane Harper's time as a journalist surely equipped her with the proper tools. The tiny Australian farm town of Kiewarra is dying from the drought, folks selling up and moving to cities and leaving behind a way of life and land that had been in families for generations. The hardy or just plain stubborn ones left behind are on edge, praying for rain, tensions winding up the citizens until bar fights and years old arguments are like tinder to dry kindling. Federal Agent Aaron Falk is down from Melbourne to attend the funeral of his boyhood best friend, Luke, accused of killing his wife and son before turning his gun on himself. He and his father had fled under a cloud two decades earlier, both of them suspects in the death of a teen girl, a girl Aaron had been ready to love. Now he's given himself 18 hours to get in, get out, and get gone before overheated tempers explode. But Luke's parents don't believe the story the crime scene tells and ask Aaron to look into it. He only wants out, but since their house was more a home to him as a boy than his own motherless house, obligation requires him to at least go through the motions. When he and the local police sergeant start looking into it, they have questions, too. And Aaron begins to wonder if maybe the crime even has ties to that long ago tragedy. With the drought stricken town and some of its downright mean citizens providing an atmosphere of slowly ratcheting tension, the mystery unfolds in a sad tale of might have beens and just missed opportunities. I loved the camaraderie of Falk and Sgt. Raco and am only sorry they work and live in different towns so we miss the opportunity of a second pairing.
Clever and completely obsorbing.
Dry is well written that keeps you interested and good character development. Main murder theme is believeable but parallel death story has duh sort of resolution, making you wonder why you read the book.
I wanted to like this book, but it is slow paced, boring central characters and had a very disappointing conclusion. I felt frustrated by the ending. The story was just so-so. Sorry.
The Dry is the first book in the Aaron Falk series by award-winning Australian journalist and author, Jane Harper. After twenty years away, AFP agent Aaron Falk returns to drought-stricken rural Victoria for the funeral of his one-time best friend, Luke Hadler. All of Kiewarra is there to bury Luke, Karen and little Billy, but few of them are glad to see Falk. Falk’s field is financial crimes, so Luke’s mother asks him to look into a possible alternative to the foregone conclusion of murder-suicide that seems to have been reached by the detectives from Clyde. And neither is Kiewarra’s own cop, Sergeant Greg Raco, entirely convinced by this explanation. There are enough discrepancies in the facts that Falk decides to stay a few days, to see if he can cast light on this awful tragedy. He owes Luke’s memory and his parents at least that much. But Falk and his father left Kiewarra under a cloud when, at sixteen, his dear friend Ellie Deacon drowned in the Kiewarra River. While no one was ever charged, Falk had his suspicions then about who was responsible: are they affecting his impartiality now? Are there reasons to think the crimes are related? During his informal investigation, Falk connects with townsfolk, reconnects with old friends and old enemies, and it is soon apparent that the ill will from his teens has been comprehensively reawakened. Against the backdrop of a struggling country town, Harper gives the reader twin mysteries: a cold case and one still dominating the town’s consciousness. Multiple narrators give a variety of perspectives, eventually revealing the truth about both these wretched events. Harper’s characters are believably flawed: there are no saints here, and many of them harbour secrets. Falk’s loyalty to his friends is tinged with doubt and suspicion. Harper’s Kiewarra easily evokes the typical country town with its small mindedness, its secrets, its rumour mill and the lightning spread of gossip, and a lack of the anonymity often felt in cities. This is a tale that is fast-paced, with an exciting climax and twists and red herrings that will keep even the most astute reader guessing until the final chapters. Harper’s debut novel certainly lives up to the hype, so interest in Aaron Falk’s second outing, Force of Nature, is bound to be high.
Great story line....2 mysteries in one....Had me guessing until the last page.
This book, The Dry, is one of the best mysteries I've read in quite awhile. The characters and the plot is believable and not so far-fetched as so many stories of this type are. The only thing I didn't like was the un-finished ending of one of the two book's mysteries. And, btw, someone in the reviews gave this book a low rating but gave the title as The Underground Railroad?! Don't understand that but, anyway, you won't be disappointed with The Dry.
Very disappointing. Disconnected writing and a miserable attempt to tie up loose ends
When federal agent Aaron Falk returns home to attend a friend’s funeral, today’s headline and yesterday’s collide. Can Aaron confront the past as he attempts to determine what happened to his friend and his family? Author Jane Harper has captured perfectly the rhythm of life in a small town, where you’re either born and bred or an outsider. When Aaron and his father left decades earlier, they left under a cloud, and in present day his arrival stirs up old memories and rivalries. I wish I could give this debut novel six stars – it’s well written, with solid character development, enough plot twists to keep you guessing and so much atmosphere you can feel the heat and the drought. I’ll definitely be watching for Jane Harper’s next novel.
I simply could not put the book down
Dragged a little in spots
For someone who does not regularly read murder mystery novels, this was an entertaining book with the right amount of imagery to feel like you were in Australia with the characters. Good character development and a good enough pace between each chapter to make you want to read more.
The Dry is the debut novel of Jane Harper, set in the small farming town of Kiewarra, Australia through yet another El Nino summer of drought. Dust devils spun in the bed of rivers that had never before dried up. Officially, touted the nightly weather reporters, the worst conditions in a century. Farmers were having to kill their stock because there was no feed, no water to sustain them. Three minute egg timers were hung in bathroom shower stalls, a stark reminder that water was more precious than cleanliness. And it is thought that second generation farmer Luke Hadler may have gone round the bend, shotgunning his wife Karen, his six year old son Billy, and then himself. Aaron Falk is a thirty-six year old Kiewarra native, though working these many years five hours down the road in Melbourne as a Federal policeman in the financial intelligence unit. Luke and Aaron were best buddies all through school. Luke, Aaron, Gretchen and Ellie, a foursome that first saw tragedy with the death, maybe murder, possibly suicide, of Ellie while they were still in high school. Now there is only Aaron and Gretchen, and the local constable, Raco, was just days in the town and on the job when this tragic killing happened. Luke's parents want Aaron involved in the investigation, want their son Luke cleared of this heinous crime. Other locals aren't sure Aaron wasn't responsible, one way or the other, for the long ago death of Ellie, and want him to clear out. No one is listening when Aaron explains, repeatedly, the kind of policeman he is. He follows the money. Strictly a desk job, financial intelligence. But Gerry and Barb Hadler were like parents to Aaron, growing up. And there are discrepancies, apparent even to Raco, the newly imported policeman. Can Aaron legitimately scurry back to Melbourne, turn his back on these people, this crime and still live with himself? The Dry is a tight, atmospheric mystery, hard to put aside. Jane Harper is an author I am compelled to follow.
Talk about a page turner. "The Dry" follows Officer Aaron Falk as he returns to his hometown for Luke's funeral, his childhood best friend. Circumstances around his friend's death couldn't be more horrific and Aaron's countdown until he can leave Kiewarra begins the minute he steps foot in the town. He has a complicated history there and ghosts he would rather not run into. Luke's parents don't believe what the city police said happened inside Luke's home the night he and his family died. Gerry and Barb beg Aaron to stay in town to see if he can help uncover the truth. Set in a small Australian farming town during a severe drought the residents of Kiewarra are a powder keg of emotions waiting to go off. The author gives the reader just enough information to keep you guessing as to what really happened to the Hadler family. I'm usually able to figure out the ending of "who-done-its" fairly early on but Jane Harper did a great job not giving it away. Her smooth transitions between chapters keeps the story flowing and keeps the reader wanting more. This was a great read.
This book has nothing but amazing reviews and it deserves EVERY SINGLE ONE. A perfect mix of crime, mystery and character drama - set against a unique landscape which becomes as much a part of the story as the people themselves. This is truly un-put-downable. Aaron Falk is drawn back to a hometown that he ran from decades before - drawn back only by the complex deaths of his childhood best friend, Luke, and Luke's family. Falk finds himself drawn into investigating the deaths at the bequest of Luke's parents, and realizing that the small town full of secrets he was once part of hasn't changed much at all. Jane Harper is absolute magic at writing complex and multi dimensional characters that allow you to become fully invested in the story. I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this and cannot wait to jump into the rest of Jane's work, while I await the next Aaron Falk book. 5 very solid stars.
Too slow to begin with and then too fast to finish off. Plenty of character development, often too much.
I'm giving this book 5 stars because it had so many things I enjoy in a book. A great mystery, realistic characters, a wonderful atmospheric setting. Enjoyed it all and am looking forward to this author's second book.