Small-town se­crets

Two Aus­tralian au­thors weave page-turn­ing mys­ter­ies, while the lat­est work from ac­claimed US writer An­nie Proulx is nearly here,

The West Australian - - TODAY - writes Amanda El­lis

Fiction burns hot and cold this month as read­ers pick up a fire­cracker de­but and an icy thriller set in Antarc­tica.

Jour­nal­ist Jane Harper proves lit­er­ary is of­ten mys­te­ri­ous, with her thriller

The Dry (Macmil­lan $33, ebook $13) cap­tur­ing read­ers’ at­ten­tion both for its fi­nal twist and its de­pic­tion of a hos­tile small Aus­tralian town be­set by drought.

“It’s a story about a po­lice­man who re­turns to his home town af­ter leav­ing 20 years ear­lier un­der a cloud,” she says.

“He re­turns for the fu­neral of his child­hood best friend, who has been in­volved in a mur­der-sui­cide of the fam­ily in the drought-stricken farm­ing com­mu­nity. He’s look­ing into what hap­pened there but there’s a sec­ondary back­story as to what hap­pened to him as a teenager.”

Fed­eral Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tor Aaron Falk is a strong and silent type who was driven out of the town years ear­lier af­ter be­ing sus­pected of drown­ing his love in­ter­est, El­lie.

The now drought-stricken town has never for­got­ten the scan­dal and treats him with vary­ing de­grees of hos­til­ity as he un­of­fi­cially in­ves­ti­gates his friend Luke’s death and the deaths of Luke’s wife and son.

Aaron finds he must re-eval­u­ate El­lie’s death and the play­ers’ al­i­bis and re­assess his own re­la­tion­ships. His siz­zling chem­istry with one of Luke’s exes is a high­light of the page-turner and one sure to trans­late well on screen if Reese Wither­spoon’s pro­duc­tion com­pany makes the book into a film.

Wither­spoon’s com­pany made the block­buster Gone Girl and biopic Wild and picked up the film rights for The Dry, which also won the Vic­to­rian Premier’s Un­pub­lished Man­u­script prize back in 2014.

Nov­el­ist Ann Turner courts fans of her de­but The Lost Swim­mer with an­other aquatic-themed novel, Out of the Ice (Si­mon & Schus­ter $30, ebook $10). Set in Antarc­tica, it features an en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist, Laura Al­varado, who is do­ing an as­sess­ment of an aban­doned is­land once used as a whal­ing sta­tion. De­spite the area be­ing closed since the 1950s, the wildlife there is act­ing strangely and there are signs of re­cent in­ter­fer­ence. Well and truly an out­sider, Laura gets the feel­ing she is be­ing watched, then sees an an­guished fig­ure in an ice cave. “Be­hind an icy wall, clear and translu­cent, stood a boy,

tou­sled dark hair, huge brown eyes, skinny arms raised high. He was call­ing to me through the ice, trapped like an in­sect in am­ber . . . I could see his mouth open wide in a yell. ‘ Help me!’”

Was he a ghost or an Antarc­tic worker’s child? Laura dis­cov­ers other scientists un­help­ful then em­barks on an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that leads to a net­work of pae­dophiles across the world.

Turner, who is also a screen­writer, is in fine form here, ex­plor­ing si­lence and se­crets, male and fe­male ways of re­lat­ing and ex­ploita­tion and grief.

Pulitzer Prize-win­ner An­nie Proulx’s lat­est novel, Bark­skins, (Harper Collins $40, ebook $15) comes out next week af­ter a 14-year hia­tus from the 80-year-old au­thor of The Ship­ping News.

Proulx, also a Na­tional Book Award win­ner, has cho­sen his­tor­i­cal fiction as her ter­ri­tory, set­ting the tale of two in­den­tured ser­vants in 1693 New France, a forested north Amer­i­can ter­ri­tory which later be­came the US and Canada.

Al­ready sam­pled on­line in The New Yorker short story A Res­o­lute Man, the eco-epic is at­tract­ing four stars at the web­site Goodreads, and is be­ing praised as a pas­sion­ate and in­sight­ful ex­plo­ration of fam­ily sur­vival in hos­tile ter­ri­tory.

‘Turner, who is also a screen­writer, is in fine form here.’

Pic­ture: Ni­cholas Pur­cell Stu­dios

Jour­nal­ist-to-nov­el­ist Jane Harper.

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