Set in a fictional Riverina town at the height of a devastating drought, Scrublands is one of the most powerful, compelling and original crime novels to be written in Australia.
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
An Australian town unleashes all kinds of dangers on an unsuspecting journalist in Chris Hammer’s stunning crime thriller. One year ago, Riversend’s beloved priest Byron Swift inexplicably opened fire on the parishioners gathered on his church steps. But when reporter Martin Scarsden arrives to write a follow-up piece about the tragedy, he finds that his paper got the story all wrong the first time around. Hammer pulls you down the rabbit hole of this seemingly mundane town that’s harbouring ugly secrets, including clandestine affairs, extensive cover-ups and more dead bodies—and then a raging bushfire ups the danger. Hammer brilliantly captures all of the town’s varied and odd characters in this gripping blend of action and psychological thrills.
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.
Interesting microcosm setting
The setting in the small town and its outlying areas is interesting as a writing technique. While there are other faraway locations described as part of the historical background the present is always in the condensed setting of the town and surroundings.
It’s a great mix of Australian culture and a gripping and intriguing storyline. Lots of twists and interwoven characters but none go to far to be unbelievable.
Scrublands gets under your skin like red outback dust
Scrublands is one of those rare gems that keeps you reading long into the night. It has a mixture of heartbreak, murder, revenge, greed, depravity, generational abuse, organised crime and a touch of romance. Martin Scarsden is a wounded reporter. Lost. Drifting in his own battlefield. Trying to make peace with his own life and also trying to make a future, whatever that looks like he has no idea. Then he pops up in a dried up old country town with dark secrets. Too many. Things unravel quickly and Martin is desperate to keep up with events and to piece it all together. The book is well researched, well written and for anyone who has lived in the outback like myself, his descriptions were so vivid I found myself back amongst the red dust once more.