Published August 2018
Scrublands by Chris Hammer is the real buzz book of the moment and I'm happy to report it's worth all of the hype. Scrublands is a whydunnit crime mystery about secrets, sex, murder and deception set in a fictional country town in the Riverina during a severe drought. Readers who wonder if this is going to be a rip off of The Dry by Jane Harper needn't worry, this is nothing like it.
Martin is a journalist sent to Riversend to write a piece on the one year anniversary of the church shooting. But as soon as he starts talking to a few of the locals, their stories give him cause to doubt the well accepted facts of the case: Priest shoots five locals before being shot dead by the local copper.
Australian author Chris Hammer draws on his personal knowledge of being a journalist to produce our protagonist Martin Scarsden and he's a compelling character. I enjoyed his attempts to get to the bottom of the shooting whilst taking delight in just how quickly he's caught up in the small town goings on. I'd have preferred fewer references to his hands, but that's just a minor quibble.
Scrublands has some cracking country characters (Harley Snouch, Codger Harris) and without a doubt, the best bushfire scene I've ever read in a novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the references to Australian media outlets and the politics that goes on between journalists, reporters and photographers as they compete for an edge on the developing story.
Here's my favourite quote from the book that reminds me of the song Flame Trees by Cold Chisel:
"And there is something about old friends, old loves, those who you were young with: when you see them after many years, they don't appear as they are now, but as they were. You can see past the pudginess and wrinkles, past cloudy eyes and sagging jawlines. You can see them as they were when they were young and vital." Page 261
I thoroughly enjoyed unravelling this whydunnit/whodunnit and can unreservedly recommend Scrublands by Chris Hammer to readers everywhere. It will appeal to crime and mystery lovers and it wouldn't surprise me if it was nominated for some awards by the end of the year.
My rating = *****
My rating = *****