Treasure and Dirt by Chris Hammer [7/10]

Chris Hammer has never transcended his first magnificent murder mystery starring newspaperman Martin Scarsden, Scrublands. Scarsden has returned in two more pacy, complex crime fiction books, and now a bit player in those, Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic travels to a remote New South Wales opal mining town to investigate the crucifixion of a miner. ”Treasure and Dirt” also introduces a feisty young detective Nell Buchanan. Buchanan and Lucic team up to trawl through a complex set of clues involving locals, tycoons, even a nutcase cult leader. The author is a dab hand with an immersive first person present-tense style that could become wearisome in lesser hands, and his plots are so complex that they need fanatical genre readers to tackle them, but his core strength is atmospheric settings, in this case the strange world of jewel mining. Treasure and Dirt is perhaps slightly less compelling than the Scarsden series, but it demands single-sitting reading and rockets along. Recommended.

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