Crime you won’t be able to put down

Hamilton News - - BOOKS - — Mar­garet Reilly

Ev­ery now and again you can pick up a book and not want to put it down. This is Chris Ham­mer’s de­but novel Scrub­lands.

Martin Scars­den is a young reporter fight­ing his demons af­ter be­ing locked in a boot of a Mercedes and aban­doned while re­port­ing in the Gaza Strip. His ed­i­tor Max has sent him on what should have been a soft re­port­ing as­sign­ment to Ri­versend, a lit­tle Aus­tralian town brought to its knees by end­less droughts. The pre­vi­ous year a young charis­matic pri­est had opened fire on his con­gre­ga­tion killing five. There seemed to be no ex­pla­na­tion. The ed­i­tor sug­gested Martin spend a week in the town writ­ing a fea­ture on the an­niver­sary of the mas­sacre.

Martin, true to his jour­nal­ist in­stincts, be­comes in­volved with the towns­folk. He makes friends with Rob­bie, the young con­sta­ble, more than friends with Man­dalay, the young solo mother who runs the book­shop and lo­cal cafe. He’s in­trigued with the lack of any ex­pla­na­tion for this macabre event.

A new twist emerges. The bod­ies of two Ger­man back­pack­ers who went miss­ing about the time of the shoot­ings are found.

Once again the town is flooded with po­lice and re­porters. Martin man­ages to un­earth some cru­cial in­for­ma­tion. The pa­per has a front page scoop, but this in­for­ma­tion ap­pears to have led to the sus­pected sui­cide of a neigh­bour­ing town’s well-re­spected po­lice of­fi­cer. When it is found that Martin’s scoop is not ex­actly true both Martin and Max are fired from the pa­per. Martin then de­cides he has nowhere else to go so he might as well stay put for few more days.

And so the story con­tin­ues.

The writ­ing is so good the reader can feel the heat, the drought, the pun­ish­ing ex­is­tence these folk are liv­ing. The more Martin probes the more he re­alises there is more to un­earth. One is­sue solved seems to lead to some­thing else un­ex­plained. He comes to re­alise there there are se­crets here the towns­folk want to be buried. Layer upon layer the story un­folds. This is the best crime novel I have read for years.

Scrub­landsBy Chris Ham­mer, Allen&un­win, $36.99

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