Crime you won’t be able to put down
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