Aaron Falk has returned to Kiewarra, his childhood town, after a 20 year absence. He is there for the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke Hadler, who killed his wife and child before turning a gun on himself. But questions are raised as to the true nature of the killings. As Aaron reluctantly investigates he finds himself faced with hostility. The events that led him to leave Kiewarra 20 years earlier, and the secret that he and Luke shared from that time threaten to surface as Aaron investigates what really happened to the Hadlers.
There is an excellent pace to this story. It opens with a tragedy and slowly, yet surely, progresses into something less clear cut. It soon becomes obvious that Aaron is not the only person to be keeping secrets and the longer he is in Kiewarra the more determined he is to uncover them, and the more the reader wills him on.
The characterisation is spot on. Falk is a complex mix of Federal Agent, grown used to city life, and the 16 year old he was when was forced to leave the town of his youth. He finds that though the people may be older the same prejudices are still around. He is still considered, as he appeared in his youth, but with age an impetuousness has seeped in. He is methodical and compelled to find out the truth of what happened to his friend, and what happened 20 years ago. Raco is another great character. An outsider, only having the job of police chief for a week before the killings, he has no preordained ideas about Falk. The belligerent Grant Dow and his uncle Mal are easy to imagine, their general malevolence casting a pall over the town. As for the town of Kiewarra, it is a contradiction. Whilst it is surrounded by wide open spaces, made up of farms, it has a stifling, claustrophobic, closed off feel. Outsiders are outsiders no matter how long they have lived there and people it seem are quick to judge but take longer to forget. The tension in town is heightened by the drought and the secrets of the town threaten to ignite more than tempers.
The narrative flits from Falk’s investigation to episodes in the recent and distant past, allowing the dead to become more rounded characters, which adds to the sense of loss their deaths have brought.
Jane Harper discreetly leaves clues as to what happened dotted in the narrative. I had worked out what had happened before the reveal but this did not lessen my enjoyment of the novel. <!-- x-tinymce/html -->I sped through the last hundred pages of it, so eager was I to find out what had happened.
This is a story about what happens when bullies grow up and grow old. When fear and prejudice and small minds take the place of sense and understanding. It is a tale of the lengths people will go to keep secrets and protect themselves.
The tension of Kiewarra is palpable, the story engaging, the characters all adding different facets to the story. Jane Harper has created a compelling story, one that transports the reader to the arid landscape of Australia. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.