Scrublands by Chris Hammer [8/10]

Riversend, a Murray-Darling basis town scorched by drought: the revered local priest shoots five parishioners in broad daylight before being shot himself. A year later journalist Martin Scarsden arrives to resurrect his career with a “post-trauma” story and plunges into a classic whodunnit of wicked complexity. Author Chris Hammer has us walking in Scarsden’s shoes from the first page and unleashes the clever plot with assuredness. The rural cast of characters in “Scrublands” is evocative, the writing smooth and assured, the politics of a country town in decline well drawn. I was reminded of Peter Temple’s jigsaw-puzzle mysteries, a supreme compliment. Beyond the masterful genre mechanics and storytelling, Hammer (author of an award-winning travelogue through the drought-stricken areas) features the unforgiving landscape as a major character. Riversend is introduced thus: “the midday heat, ferocious and furnace-dry”; a river replaced by “a mosaic of cracked clay, baked and going to dust”; the heat “tugs at him, seeking his moisture.” For once let me recommend a rural murdery mystery ahead of city-based crime fiction: this is a resounding triumph.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *