FIRST came a dead rabbit, then a dead teenaged girl. Now, more than 20 years later, three more bodies have surfaced in Luke Hadler’s immediate orbit: wife Karen, son Billy and Hadler himself, each one killed outright by a shotgun blast.
Initially it appears to be the all-too-common collapse of a farmer pushed beyond his emotional limits by circumstance – on this occasion, the drought that has crippled the Hadler family’s corner of north-western Victoria. Crops are failing, livestock are being slaughtered and financially the district is destitute. Acceptance that the strain has overwhelmed Hadler is virtually unquestioned and widespread.
For three men, however, this theory is brittle. At the urging of Hadler’s disbelieving father, a federal police investigator – once the dead man’s childhood sidekick – takes an interest in the case, teaming up with the local sergeant to re-examine the scene and interview district residents.
The clues that emerge in the days that follow the group funeral, seeping out of the parched landscape almost as reluctantly as rain from the sky, set Aaron Falk, Greg Raco and Gerry Hadler on the path towards painstakingly scraping back the scabs from a series of festering community wounds.
Did Luke Hadler truly shoot Karen and Billy, and then himself? Or is some other, as-yet-unidentified killer lurking in Kiewarra?
A smattering of wayward foreign expressions aside – field, barn, parked up, the idea that a 200-acre farm is “pretty big” – British-Melburnian Jane Harper’s writing captures the dynamics of rural living with tenderness, empathy and an impressive depth of both understanding and detail rarely found in contemporary writing.
Even before the book was launched, screen rights to The Dry had been bought by Hollywood actor/producer Reese Witherspoon and her Australian business partner Bruna Panadrea; the novel itself will be released in the US, the UK and more than 20 foreign-language territories.