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!