A great debut from a young Melbourne crime writer.

the dryOne of the things I love about the way Australian crime writing is developing is the way so much of the best of it has such a distinct and vivid sense of place.

The geography of Jane Harper’s debut novel is as much a part of the story as the crime. The particulars of this place – the land, the isolation, the heat and dust, the drought – are integral to the story, and are a principal driver of the plot.

Aaron Falk is back in his unmissed and unloved former hometown for a funeral for his former best mate Luke, his wife and their son. It looks like a murder-suicide, but not everyone is sure.

Luke’s parents ask Aaron, who now works with Australian Federal Police, to take a closer look. He finds an ally in the town’s relatively new local policeman, who also thinks the answer is not so clear cut.

But the town isn’t happy with Aaron’s return. He and his dad left under a cloud, after the death of a local girl. It was officially a suicide, but Aaron’s alibi for the time of her death is slim and the locals have reason to believe he was somehow involved.

There are new secrets and old sins that are festering throughout the town, and when Aaron starting digging, they threaten to explode.

This is a fabulous debut from Harper, who won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for best unpublished manuscript for this novel. It’s a gripping story from start to finish, and reads like it came from an experienced and established writer.