5 stars out of 5
If you have time to read no more than a handful of books this year, make sure this one of them. Yes, it's that good.
And to think I almost didn't read it. To get it, in fact, I broke one of my cardinal rules: Never trust gushing praise about a book when it comes from other authors. But in this instance, as a subscriber of email from David Baldacci, I got a message saying he'd read, and highly recommends, this one.
Just delete the message, the law-abiding side of my mind advised. Ah, countered my more adventurous side, but it sounds good, and besides, Baldacci is one of my top five all-time favorite writers. What the heck, I finally decided - I'll go to NetGalley and see if an advance copy is available for review. If it is, I'll request it; if I'm approved, I'll take it as a sign from God.
Well, apparently, somebody up there loves me; it was on my Kindle the same day as my request. I'm joking about the love from on high, of course, but I'm not kidding when I say I absolutely loved the book. In fact, I breezed through it almost nonstop over a couple of days - eager to find out how it ends yet not wanting it to end. The story drew me in from the start, and the well-developed characters are so real it's hard to avoid loving (or in some instances, despising) every single one. The only thing that's hard to believe, in fact, is that this is a debut novel.
The setting is the small Australian town of Kiewarra, a couple of hours from Melbourne, where Federal Agent Aaron Falk plies his trade of solving financial cries. Aaron, who grew up in Kiewarra, has returned after 20 or so years to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Back then, a young female friend drowned under suspicious circumstances, and when Aaron became the prime suspect, Luke provided an ironclad alibi. But many local folks weren't willing to believe Luke's story, much less let Aaron off the hook; life turned so uncomfortable that Aaron's father insisted that he and his son pack up and leave, vowing never to return.
Now Aaron's back and Luke's dead, but it seems local folks have clung to their old, unpleasant beliefs. Worse, Luke now is on a hook of a different sort; by all accounts, he killed himself after taking the lives of his wife and son - leaving only their infant daughter alive. But Aaron isn't so sure that's what really happened; and when he gets his head together with a local detective, he learns the detective has doubts as well. Aaron's intent was to stay just a couple of days, wanting to make a relatively hasty retreat from the drought-destroyed land and bad memories. Urged on by Luke's distraught parents, who have taken in their surviving granddaughter, Aaron agrees to give it a week - after all, he's got some vacation time coming - just to help with what's being deemed an unofficial investigation.
The more he and the detective poke around, though, the more the suicide/murder theory unravels - and suddenly, the loose ends begin to reach back all those years ago to when Luke's faithful buddy stood up for him. In retrospect, did Aaron and Luke's friend kill herself, or was her death a result of something more sinister? Could the events of the past really be tied to the here-and-now murders of Luke's wife and son? If so, how? And who?
The story moves along quickly, with chapters interspersed with Aaron's "recollections" of what happened back then. Little by little, everything comes together, building up to an exciting, and for the most part surprising, ending. I was left wishing there was more to read, but also with the thought that Aaron would be a great character for a series (what say you, Ms. Harper)?
The moral to my own story? Some rules, it seems, are meant to be broken. Get this one - you won't be sorry.
The Dry by Jane Harper (Flatiron Books, January 2017); 336 pp.