Scrublands by Chris Hammer (Allen & Unwin)


“The day is still. The heat, having eased during the night, is building again; the sky is cloudless and unforgiving, the sun punishing.”


THE journalist as detective sleuth is obvious, if largely uncharted. Maybe there is a mental barrier between covering real life that stops newspaper people moving into fiction. Enter here: Chris Hammer and his hero Martin Scarsden, veteran of the middle east conflicts, gifted an assignment in the outback where, as in Liz Moore’s Long Bright River, there are layers of back story, not least commentary on small town life and notions of truth, reported or not. Secrets. Lies.

At 486 pages of admittedly airily spaced large type this crime mystery is on the long side, but if you just followed the dialogue and used the narrative as reminders to hang on to the plot you could probably speed read it on a short haul plane flight.

By page three we have five shootings. By a vicar. By page 10 we have met the blonde and a conspiracy theory. Each twist and turn uncovers new perspectives.

I was tempted to read to read Hammer’s acclaimed non fiction work the River which is set in the same place but it is priced in paperback on Amazon at £695.35 which usually means it is out of print and not many people want to let their copy go. In interview he said he never made any money writing non fiction, but when he moved to fiction he fulfilled that other journalist dream of quitting the day job with a fat advance. After 30 years as a reporter he knows the space, the professional rivalries, friction between desk editors and the man in the field and not least…well I won’t give that away. All this plays out as backdrop to a small town caught in a vortex of headlines and bylines reaching a pretty epic climax.

There is a follow up just released called Silver.




About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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