Summary and book reviews of The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry

by Jane Harper

The Dry by Jane Harper X
The Dry by Jane Harper
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 320 pages
    Jan 2018, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Claire McAlpine

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Book Summary

Winner of the 2017 BookBrowse Debut Novel Award

A small town hides big secrets in The Dry, an atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by award-winning author Jane Harper.

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 if 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.


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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Welcome to the Reading Group Guide for The Dry. Please note: In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this novel - as well as the ending. If you have not finished reading The Dry, we respectfully suggest that you may want to wait before reviewing this guide.

1. The drought overshadows everything that happens in The Dry. In some ways it could almost be said to be a character in its own right. What is it about the drought and its effects on the town that make people less likely to question what happened to the Hadlers?

2. How does the drought color our impressions of Kiewarra, its residents, and the Australian bush ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about The Dry. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Do you prefer small-town living or urban living? Have you ever lived in a small town? What do you think are the positives and negatives of a small town's tight-knit community?
I prefer living in a small town and knowing my neighbors. Yes, gossip and everyone knowing more about your business than you do yourself can be a problem. But I like the quiet. - scottishrose

Do you think it is true that death rarely changes how we feel about someone?
Yes, I think it is true. But a death might bring back good or bad memories of the person. - tswaine

Do you think that leaving town was the right way for Erik Falk to deal with the situation he and Aaron were facing? How did his father's doubts about him affect Aaron?
I don't think they should have left town, but with the town being so small, it was easier to leave and leave the past behind them than live with people talking about them behind their backs for the rest of their lives and thinking one of them was ... - tswaine

Do you think the drought’s effects on the town made people less likely to question what happened to the Hadlers? Why or why not?
I do think it made people less likely. There were swift to believe that Luke had done it because they were all struggling to get by during the drought. The drought also affects how the story ends. When Whitlam threatens to set fire to the town, Falk ... - scottishrose

Falk's adult relationships have not been what he hoped. Do you think events surrounding Ellie's death and his relationship with Ellie in life affected his ability to engage with people, and if so, in what ways?
I could not agree more. Falk has unsettled issues from loosing his mother, being forced to leave his home town, and his father's doubting him. Falk was a good guy, he cared for Ellie, but how was he to understand what was going on in her life. ... - barrye

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BookBrowse Review


With more than one mystery being unraveled simultaneously, The Dry keeps up a brisk pace, is full of surprises, and has the right balance of tension without overindulging in the brutal, tense-suspense formula of many potboilers today. It carries the reader to the arid, drought suffering region of Australia in a way that reminded me of Douglas Kennedy's thrilling debut novel set in the lesser known, slightly terrifying, remote and usually uninhabited Australian Outback, The Dead Heart. Jane Harper is already at work on her next crime and mystery novel which will also feature Aaron Falk. We are told it takes place in a different setting and can be read as a stand-alone rather than a direct sequel.   (Reviewed by Claire McAlpine).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Devastating debut…a suspenseful tale of sound and fury as riveting as it is horrific.


Starred Review. A stunner…It's a small-town, big-secrets page-turner with a shocker of an ending…Recommend this one to fans of James Lee Burke and Robert Crais, who mix elements of 'bromance' into their hard-boiled tales.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A nail-biting thriller…A chilling story set under a blistering sun, this fine debut will keep readers on edge and awake long past bedtime.

Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

Every now and then an Australian crime novel comes along to stop your breath and haunt your dreams…There is about The Dry, something mythic and valiant. This a story about heroism, the sins of the past, and the struggle to atone.

Australian Women's Weekly (Australia)

A razor-sharp crime yarn dripping in the sights, sounds and smells of the Australian bush…The storytelling is accomplished, with a bald sparseness to the writing that draws you in and characterization that rings resoundingly true…as the action twists and turns, the pace build[s] to a fantastic finale that will leave you breathless.

Australian Financial Review (Australia)

A tightly plotted page-turner that kept me reading well into the night…In this cracker of a book Harper maintains the suspense, with the momentum picking up as it draws to its nerve-wracking conclusion.

The West Australian (Australia)

The Dry is a page-turner written with a maturity of style rarely seen in a first-time novelist and it's here the writer excels. Harper's exploration of the pressures of a small town where people are not able to escape the past is thoughtful and mature. Her plot twists and layering are intricate and subtle and keep you guessing to the end.

Author Blurb David Baldacci
One of the most stunning debuts I've ever read…Every word is near perfect.

Author Blurb John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of The Fall
With The Dry, Jane Harper immediately takes her place among the elites in the mystery world...Terrific characters, unique and evocative setting, knockout plot construction. This book has it all.

Author Blurb C.J. Box, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Off The Grid
It's extremely rare and exciting to read a debut that enthralls from the very first page and then absolutely sticks the landing. Told with heart and guts and an authentic sense of place that simply cannot be faked, The Dry is the debut of the year.

Author Blurb John Hart, New York Times bestselling author of Redemption Road
Every so often a debut novel arrives that is so tightly woven and compelling it seems the work of a novelist in her prime. That's what Jane Harper has given us.

Author Blurb Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena
From the first paragraph onward, Jane Harper creates a menacing landscape out of which long-held secrets emerge. The Dry is a marvelous novel that once begun is hard to put down, once finished even harder to forget.

Author Blurb Michael Robotham, New York Times bestselling author of Life or Death
You will feel the heat, taste the dust and blink into the glare. The Dry is a wonderful crime novel that shines a light into the darkest corner of a sunburnt country.

Reader Reviews

Bev C

The Dry
This debut is perfectly named. The climatic descriptions are vivid and more than just a backdrop, they are an integral part of the story. Amid the worst drought of the century, Federal Agent Aaron Falk is summoned to Kiewarra for the funerals of ...   Read More

Sandi W

Page turner...
A strange note left on his desk takes Federal Agent Aaron Falk back to his home town, one he left 20 years prior on a bad note. He finds that his childhood best friend, Luke Hadler, along with Luke's wife and son were murdered. The town wants to ...   Read More


Familiar plot line but enjoyable read
The author does a good job with a familiar plot line. Man returns to his childhood town for the funeral of a friend. Secrets from the past dog him as he is called on to help solve a present day murder. The story shifts from past to present as all is ...   Read More


Good, but sad
Time heals all wounds....or does it?

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Beyond the Book

The Big Dry - Rivers and Drought in Australia

Laanacoorie Reservoir GirlThe Big Dry was a nine-year drought experienced in Southeastern Australia from 2003 to 2012. The region suffered the most severe dry period in recorded history and assumptions made by early pioneering colonists – that there would always be wet periods in these lands – began to be questioned. The alternative, that there might be long, significant periods of hot, dry weather was taken more seriously, and the consequences studied for how the population, the ecosystem and the agricultural industry could sustainably survive under such conditions.

The drought caused serious water shortages in many rural and metropolitan areas, significant agricultural losses, deaths of animals and the loss of a way of life for many farmers. It also ...

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