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Posts Tagged ‘teenage death’

THE DRY by Jane Harper: Book Review

It’s a never-ending drought, sucking the life out of the land and the people of Australia, that is described in Jane Harper’s debut novel.  Farmers are on edge, looking at their once-profitable ranches that now are barren of crops and animal feed.  Tempers are at the breaking point, waiting for the smallest event to set them off.  And when that event comes, it’s catastrophic–the murder of three family members in the town of Kiewarra.

A delivery man finds the mother first, shot dead at the entrance of her farmhouse, and calls the police.  When Sergeant Raco arrives, he hears a cry.  Following the sound to a small bedroom, he sees a toddler in her crib, and he’s thankful that she’s unhurt.  But then he looks across the hall to another bedroom and sees the dead body of a young boy, apparently the older brother in the family.

A search is started for Luke Hadler, the husband and father of the victims.  The police don’t know whether he’s the killer or another victim, but in short order they find Luke in the back of his truck, his head nearly completely destroyed by a shotgun.  At first glance it looks open-and-shut:  a father goes crazy, kills his family.  But, says Raco, there are a couple of things that don’t seem to fit.  First, Luke didn’t kill his entire family and then himself; he let his baby daughter live, which apparently is unusual when a family member goes on a killing spree.  Second, although the shotgun used in the two murders and the suicide belonged to Luke, they were filled with Remington bullets, and the only cartridges on the Hadlers’ property were Winchesters.

It’s been over twenty years since Aaron Falk, now a federal police officer, left Kiewarra, hoping and planning never to return.  But a cryptic note from Luke’s father, “Luke lied.  You lied,” brings him back to relive the events of the past.  Is the death that occurred when Aaron and Luke were teenagers the reason for the current murders?  If so, why would someone wait all this time?  If not, what is the motive for these deaths?

Aaron’s field is investigating financial fraud, not murders.  He tells this to Luke’s father, but the man doesn’t care.  Gerry Hadler doesn’t think the police are looking deeply enough into the murders, and his hold on Aaron is strong enough that Aaron promises to stay for a week to investigate.  And that decision brings the townspeople’s never-forgotten hatred of their former neighbor out in full force, pulling to the surface the suspicions about the death of Aaron’s girlfriend two decades earlier.

The Dry is the tense, suspenseful story of a small town that has never recovered from the death of one of its teenagers more than two decades ago.  Ellie Deacon was Aaron’s off-again, on-again girlfriend, and her death by drowning could never be proved as either an accident or a suicide.  Even though Aaron was never charged with any crime, the hostility of the other townspeople forced him and his father to move to Melbourne.  And there Aaron would have gladly stayed for the remainder of his life had he not received that note from Luke’s father.

You can read more about Jane Harper at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

BITTER RIVER by Julia Keller: Book Review

Bell Elkins is a small-town girl who has made good.  She managed to leave the coal-mining town of Acker’s Gap, where she grew up in a motherless home with an abusive father, get herself a law degree, and work in Washington, D. C. with her husband.  A perfect professional and personal life, it would seem.

But after a few years, Acker’s Gap, with all its problems of poverty, unemployment, and drug use drew her back.  Bell felt she could make a difference there that she couldn’t in the nation’s capital.  So she and her daughter returned to West Virginia, a place her husband, a highly successful attorney, was only to happy to leave behind.

A second reason for returning home for Bell is her superstition/belief that her older sister would someday return there to find her.  Shirley had protected Bell from their father’s sexual advances during her childhood, and when it became impossible to continue doing that, Shirley murdered their father and set fire to their home.  Shirley was released from prison two years before this novel opens but never returned to Acker’s Gap; Bell fears that if she left town permanently, her sister would never be able to find her.

As Bitter River, the second book in this series, opens, Bell is driving home from Washington.  During the trip, she receives a call from Nick Fogelsong, sheriff of Raythune Country and a close friend.  The body of Lucinda Trimble has been found in the Bitter River.  Lucinda, a shining academic and sports star at the local high school, was dead before her car hit the water, Nick says, so this is not an accident.  It’s murder.

Although still in high school, Lucinda was engaged to Shawn Doggett, son of the town’s wealthiest family.   The Doggetts, particularly Mrs. Doggett, were less than thrilled with this, especially given the fact that Lucinda was pregnant and was resisting all attempts by the Doggetts and her own mother to give the baby up for adoption.

While all this is going on, an old friend of Bell’s, Matt Harless, a CIA agent, presumably retired, has come to town for a brief respite.  He tells Bell he remembers her talking about her town, about the beauty of the mountains, and he’s decided that a visit is what he needs before he makes any future plans.  But strange things start happening shortly after his arrival, leaving Bell to wonder if they’re coincidental or somehow related to Harless.

Julie Keller paints a vivid picture of Acker’s Gap and the people in it.  It’s a place that, on the surface, seems removed from the rest of 21st-century America, but a deeper look reveals the same problems that the rest of the country has–high school dropouts, high unemployment, drug abuse, and domestic violence.

Bell Elkins is a tough, determined protagonist.  Her roots in her home town are strong, even with the memories of the abusive childhood she and her sister shared.  This novel makes me hope that the third entry in the series won’t be long in coming.

You can read more about Julia Keller at this web site.

You can read my post of A Killing in the Hills, the first in the Bell Elkins series, on this blog.  Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.