Winner of the 2019 CWA Dagger New Blood Award for Best First Crime Novel
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Scrublands is being touted as the crime thriller of 2018, and it’s easy to see why. Former journalist Chris Hammer sets his gripping mystery in a drought-stricken rural town, one year after the local priest commits a mass shooting. With the shooter dead, residents have more questions than answers—and everyone seems to be harbouring a secret. With its evocative descriptions of the barren landscape and unforgettable characters, Hammer’s debut novel reminds us of Australian crime fiction novels like The Dry by Jane Harper and The Broken Shore by Peter Temple.
Sydney journalist Martin Scarsden, the hero of Australian author Hammer's stellar first novel, is still recuperating from a traumatic experience while covering a story in the Middle East when he's sent to Riversend to write an article about how the people of the drought-stricken town are coping one year after Byron Swift, a local priest, inexplicably shot down five men in cold blood outside his church one Sunday morning. Martin first stops at a bookstore, where he meets its beautiful owner, Mandalay Blonde, who's struggling to come to grips with a painful past. Mandy insists that Byron, who was killed by a cop shortly after he committed his horrific crime, was a decent man who treated her and her late mother kindly, not the child abuser some believed him to be. Mandy urges Martin to try to find out why he did it. Martin learns after talking to others that more tragedies may be connected with the mass murder. The stakes rise when Martin breaks a journalist's fundamental rule by becoming part of the story, which turns out to be a "heady mix of murder, religion, and sex," as Martin comes to realize. Richly descriptive writing coupled with deeply developed characters, relentless pacing, and a bombshell-laden plot make this whodunit virtually impossible to put down.
Loved the story line however it got long winded towards the end.. great to hear an Aussie voice doing the narrating however someone needs to tell him there is only one “ t” in crochet 😂
Superb read - can’t wait to read more from Chris Hammer!
Great read, captures life in a small town on the brink.