By Jane Harper
Flatiron Books, 2017, 328 pages, Mystery
After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. It looks like Luke murdered his family and committed suicide out of desperation over financial troubles. Luke’s parents refuse to believe their son capable of such heinous acts, and they call on Falk to clear their dead son’s name. Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened that awful day. As Falk reluctantly investigates Luke's death, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.
Harper’s freshman novel is full of atmosphere and character. You can feel the blistering heat of the Australian Outback on your skin, and you can sense the tension in the air as desperation makes the townspeople question each other’s motivations. Since this book is the first in a series, there are two mysteries to solve: What really happened to drive Falk and his father out of town when Falk was a teenager, and what happened to Luke and his family in the present? Both are compelling mysteries, although I occasionally felt like some parts of one mystery were drawn out in order to introduce additional details about the other. Still, this is a solid entry in a new mystery series, and I’m anxious to read the next book, Force of Nature, to see if it has just as much atmosphere and character.