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  1. The Dry is set somewhere in South East Australia during a long, hot summer. The exact location is never specified, but I took it to be somewhere in the South Australia/Victoria borderlands. The basic plot is that Aaron Falk, a detective with the Australian Federal Police, has shown up in his home town of Kiewarra to attend the funeral of his childhood friend Luke Hadler. Luke, it seems shot his wife and son before fleeing the scene and turning the gun on himself. Aaron had expected to go back home to Melbourne the next day but he receives a note from Luke’s father that holds his attention. Then when Sergeant Raco, the local policeman, shares his concerns about the murder suicide theory it looks as though Aaron is not going to be leaving any time soon. Over subsequent pages, we gradually discover more about Luke and Aaron’s past; about the circumstances surrounding Aaron’s departure for the big smoke, and the open secrets that fuel grudges and mistrust in an isolated farming community. There is much to like. The plotting is careful and the way Jane Harper drip-feeds information is well done. The use of flashbacks takes some getting used to, but is put to good effect. The setting felt real; the hostility and introversion of remote Australia. But on the debit side, the pace is slow and the characters never fully come to life. Perhaps it doesn’t help that so many key characters in the backstory are now dead; it is impossible to invest in their fates and those who are left are not always easily distinguishable. This being a bit of a whodunit, there is obviously a need for padding characters to absorb some of the suspicion, but it doesn’t feel as though we know enough about them to ever suspect them of very much. Overall, the novel felt too long. There was a fair amount of flab between about half way and the reveal – and the reveal seemed very sudden and a little premature, leaving more flab afterwards. The reader never really got a sense of ideas building in Aaron’s mind; pennies just dropped; aided by chance discoveries and convenient comments in conversations. With time and experience, I hope Jane Harper will get the pacing right and build more hooks to get the reader interested in the characters – because there is plenty here in the ideas and writing department to build upon. ***00
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