Scrublands, Chris Hammer
What is evident early on to Martin is that the events as reported by a colleague at the time of the shootings are not marrying up with the recollections being related to him now in the present day. For such a remote community, the loss of five of its men was a huge blow and has wrought huge changes in the lives of people used to the world largely only passing through their tiny home town. When two bodies are found in the local dam, the outside world again turns its attention to Riversend.
What might strike the reader first is that SCRUBLANDS reeks of authenticity. Everything from the language of the residents, the post-apocalyptic feel of the outback bush town, the malevolence of an Australian summer (where yes, everything pretty well wants to kill you) is dead on point. Australian readers will recognize so much in this novel they’ll just about be able to convince themselves they’ve visited this fictional location at some point. The map at the front of the book is a welcome inclusion (you have to love a good map, they are always useful) and that will help the reader navigate about the town right along with protagonist Martin who is encountering Riversend for the first time also.
The setting of SCRUBLANDS is almost another character as the climate of the outback lends its own threat of possible destruction by bushfire at any time. It is wielded to great effect as all the necessary adjustments to living in a town undergoing an extended drought require constant attention.
Dealing with one crisis after another, the least of which being the possible early demise of his career, Martin Scarsden needs to stay on point and you do feel for the character as he battles to keep himself focused on the task at hand. Some inclusions may make you groan (the May/December hook up, throwing an inexperienced townie into a bushfire effort, the set up and strike down of Martin repeatedly from town hero to unwelcome intruder) but we can put those down to first fictional novel inclusions. (Chris Hammer also has written a well-received work of nonfiction).
Set yourself aside a day where its just you and the pets in the house and you’ll keenly knock off the reading of SCRUBLANDS in one sitting. This will be the novel that all crime fiction fans will want to make sure they’ve demolished before their next mixed gathering and let’s call it now, this novel would translate extremely well to the small screen. Readers of crime and mystery are more than ready to take in another bush crime novel, and SCRUBLANDS is a terrific read that has ‘bestseller’ written all over it.
In an isolated country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself.
A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don't fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can't ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest's deadly rampage.
Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal.
Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town's secrets stay buried.
A compulsive thriller that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page.