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Harper’s debut novel throws you straight in with an eerie opening description of flies finding the bodies of the Hadler family, their youngest, Charlotte, crying with nobody there to answer. It seems a cut and dry case – Luke was driven mad by the crippling drought suffered by Kiewarra and snapped, killing his wife and son before shooting himself. The local police officer, Raco, is not entirely convinced however, there are a few small details that don’t add up. When Luke’s childhood friend Falk, also now a police officer, returns for the funeral, he finds an ally to carry out some unofficial investigations with. It’s not long before we realise there’s another mystery haunting this town, one that drove Falk and his father out twenty years before. The local community haven’t forgotten his disgrace and he receives a cold welcome from most.
Cleverly plotted to keep you reading, you’re taken in by every new apparent lead, only very subtle clues hinting at the real murderer. The finale plays on the drought-ridden surroundings as they head out into the bush. Indeed, the struggles facing the town because of the lack of rain are alluded to throughout. Businesses are only barely surviving, the school is falling into disrepair and tensions are high. The school’s headmaster and his wife have recently moved to the area, hoping for some peace and safety away from the city, but hadn’t realised how isolating and tough it would be. Even Falk, who grew up in Kiewarra, reflects on the psychological effects of looking out across your land and not seeing any sign of another human.
The difficult conditions and remote location means the locals band together. Anyone who wrongs them or who doesn’t fit in is shunned across the board. It is unsurprising therefore that Falk only intends to stay for a day. His plans are scuppered however as he finds himself more deeply invested in the Hadler case as well as wanting some answers for the mystery that has haunted him for decades.
The parallels between the two mysteries make you question the assumptions made. The heartache of Luke’s family over his perceived crime is realistically drawn and makes them question his past behaviour. An enjoyable read but not one that lingers after you turn the last page.
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