Scrub­lands

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - BOOKS - by Chris Ham­mer, Allen & Un­win. Re­view by Juliet Rieden

The open­ing chap­ter of Scrub­lands is so vivid you have to pinch your­self – and quickly – to re­alise that the shock­ing scene be­fore you is ac­tu­ally pure fic­tion. Yet ev­ery­thing about au­thor Chris Ham­mer’s pow­er­ful de­scrip­tion sus­pends dis­be­lief – it feels un­hap­pily plau­si­ble. We are in a dy­ing New South Wales town, ev­ery cor­ner parched from a mer­ci­less drought. Here they are all do­ing it tough and the place is prac­ti­cally a ghost town. Then, on an oth­er­wise typ­i­cal Sun­day morn­ing, the town’s charis­matic priest in­ex­pli­ca­bly opens fire, de­lib­er­ately ex­e­cut­ing five of his flock be­fore he is shot dead by his close friend, lo­cal po­lice­men Rob­bie. A year later, jour­nal­ist Martin Scars­den ar­rives in town de­ter­mined to re­boot his ca­reer with a sear­ing in­ves­tiga­tive piece about how this hor­rific shoot­ing has af­fected the lo­cals; only what he dis­cov­ers is a mys­tery that is still to be solved, with mul­ti­ple strands that only seem to plunge him fur­ther into the dark. Martin im­merses him­self in the town and some­how also be­comes part of the story – a jour­nal­is­tic night­mare. There’s a non­cha­lant Ray­mond Chan­dleresque film noir feel to this pacy thriller en­veloped in the rich colours and breath­less heat of the Aussie land­scape, which is ex­actly how Chris Ham­mer planned it. “I think there’s some­thing raw and au­then­tic in the Aus­tralian bush that lends it­self to thrillers and crimes,” he ex­plains. “The years of drought and fire have moved peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of the coun­try­side from bu­colic to men­ac­ing. So, it’s no sur­prise that so many writ­ers – and read­ers and film-mak­ers – find it the per­fect lo­ca­tion for sus­pense!” The twists in the tale run hel­ter-skel­ter but the ride is in­tox­i­cat­ing and this de­but novel in­tro­duces an in­trigu­ing new voice to the crime genre. Watch out for Chris’s next novel which de­vel­ops his Martin Scars­den pro­tag­o­nist fur­ther. “We delve into his past and learn more about the demons that drive him,” Chris re­veals. Can’t wait!

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