As readers of this blog will be aware, I am in regular receipt of The Daily Review, the online Australian arts and literature review.
Through this review I have been made aware of the fact that in the coming year Australian television viewers (and, hopefully, British viewers) will be able to watch television series of such Australian movie classics as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Romper Stomper – the first set in a rural location of my home state of Victoria and the second in an old haunt of mine, Footscray, in the western suburbs of Melbourne.
The Daily Review keeps me in touch with Australian culture – stage and screen, visual arts, music, literature and politics. For several months now, The Daily Review has been commenting on a first novel written by the Australian writer Jane Harper. The book is called The Dry, and has been described as “an atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery, where a small town hides big secrets”. The reviews for the book attracted my reading interest.
Nearly half of my life was lived in Australia and I can well remember travelling quite extensively in the eastern half of the country. This would have involved experiencing the drought conditions described in this novel; as well as driving through, also occasionally stopping for fuel and meals in, small outback towns like Kiewarra – the location of The Dry. The script and character descriptions, the rural conditions and countryside atmosphere so accurately detailed in this novel are, therefore, authentic and personally appealing.
What familiarity with the cafes and service stations of the foregoing did not give to me, however, was a sufficient appreciation of the variety of experiences and intrigues brought out in the subtle mix of personalities and motives that so characterize the individuals whose combined stories make this novel so captivating. The novel compensates for this deficiency.
Attributable to the worst drought in Australia for a century, with no rainfall in Kiewarra for two years, the tensions in the town have become unbearable. Three members of the town’s well-known Hadler family have been brutally murdered. Blame for the tragic deed has been placed on Luke Hadler, the father of the family, who, it is alleged, committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six year-old son.
A former resident of the town, a Melbourne-based policeman called Aaron Falk, has made the six hour car journey from the big city to attend the funeral of the family. Luke Hadler was Falk’s childhood best friend. Falk is inevitably drawn into the investigation and an unexpected re-involvement with the town and its people – a community that, for reasons detailed in the story, had rejected him twenty years earlier. That rejection has to do with a secret that Aaron Falk and Luke Hadler had shared. That secret is now threatened with exposure. Sweat is not always induced by the heat of the down-under sun!
The story unfolds with excruciating tension as Falk probes deeper into the killings and, inevitably, is drawn further into relationships of both hate and romance with several of the townsfolk. So too, Falk is forced to face some secrets from his personal past as he seeks the truth behind his friend’s crime – all the time wrestling with the tension “how someone like him (Luke Hadler) could do something like this (murder his own family)”.
As described by various journals, this crime book of the month is a “riveting page-turner” as the plot advances inexorably towards the truth of “who killed the Hadler family”? Further, The Dry “is a most assured crime debut that grips like a vice”.
This book just cries out for an accompanying movie and there are a number of Australian producers, directors and actors who could and would make a marvellous murder- mystery thriller of it. Picnic at Hanging Rock and Romper Stomper are just two movies that offer a testament to this possibility. John Jarratt (Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975) and Russell Crowe (Romper Stomper, 1992) would concur.
If you, the reader, have enjoyed reading those cold and calculating Nordic crime novels from the northern hemisphere, then be sure to read “The Dry” and feel the relentless, uncompromising and energy-sapping heat of the southern hemisphere. I invite you to feel the heat!