Book review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

scrublands cover
Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Blurb

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.

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Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Review

Scrublands opens with a tense scene that pulls you straight into the mystery at the heart of the novel. We are shown how the young dedicated priest of the drought-plagued town of Riversend methodically shoots five of his parishioners before turning the gun on himself, but we aren’t told why he would do that.

One year after the tragedy troubled journalist Martin Scarsdale arrives in Riversend to write a feature on how the town is coping now. It seems as though the reasoning behind the priest’s crime had already been revealed by one of Marin’s colleagues but as he gets to know the town and its inhabitants Martin discovers that there is far more to this story than he ever could have imagined.

The further Martin digs into this story, the more entangled he becomes with the weird and wonderful townsfolk of Riversend, including a romance. He eventually breaks the cardinal rule of journalism and becomes the story himself and this puts his job, his budding relationship, and even his life in danger but he is in so deep by then that he feels as though he has no choice but to see things through to the bitter end.

I loved the drought-stricken bush setting of this book and you can almost feel the heat radiating off the book while you hold it. The author has accurately conveyed the dry heavy heat of the Australian bush during droughts, as well as all the weird ways that it can affect the people who live there. I read this book over the cold winter months of lockdown in Melbourne and the way that the heat was described had me dreaming of long road trips I’ve been on in the past through towns just like Riversend.

I also found the why-dunnit mysteries and plot twists fascinating, but like other reviewers, felt that it was perhaps a little bit too convoluted at times and this meant that there was a lot of catching up and explaining to do towards the end.

Scrublands is a must-read for crime fiction fans and one of the stand out additions to the bush noir subgenre of books set in drought-stricken Australian country towns. Hammer has skilfully connected the scorching heat of the Australian bush with dark and desperate characters and I will definitely be adding his latest books to my never-ending TBR pile.

Details

Published: Published July 25th 2018 by Allen & Unwin

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, September 2020

Pages: 496

Rating: 4 stars

Goodreads

About the author

chris hammer
Chris Hammer

Chris Hammer is a leading Australian crime fiction novelist, author of international bestsellers Scrublands and Silver.

His new book, Trust, will be published in Australia and New Zealand in October 2020 and internationally from early 2021.

Scrublands was an instant bestseller upon publication in 2018, topping the Australian fiction charts.

In Australia, it was shortlisted for the 2019 ABIA, Indies and NSW Premier’s awards ; in the UK it was named the Sunday Times Crime Novel of the Year 2019 and won the prestigious UK Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award; in the US it is shortlisted for both the Barry and the Strand Magazine awards for debut crime fiction.

Silver, also featuring journalist Martin Scarsden and his partner Mandalay Blonde, was shortlisted for the ABIA and Booksellers Choice Awards and longlisted for the UK CWA Gold Dagger.

Before turning to fiction, Chris was a journalist for more than thirty years. He reported from more than 30 countries on six continents for SBS TV. In Canberra, roles included chief political correspondent for The Bulletin, senior writer for The Age and Online Political Editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Chris has written two non-fiction books The River (2010) and The Coast (2012), published by Melbourne University Press.

He has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Charles Sturt University and a master’s degree in International Relations from the Australian National University. He lives in Canberra, Australia.

Book Review: The Accusation by Wendy James

the accusation
The Accusation by Wendy James

My Review

“Somebody is lying”

Thrilling Aussie noir. The Accusation by Wendy James will keep you guessing until the very end!

When Ellie Canning is found on the side of the road in a small country town her story explodes on the news and social media. Ellie is a young attractive blonde, and her story about being kidnapped and held hostage by two crazy women is fascinating.

At first it seems ridiculous when the local teacher, newcomer Suzannah Wells, is accused of kidnapping Ellie, but as the evidence begins to pile and things quickly begin to unravel, it suddenly doesn’t seem so unlikely.

I flip-flopped the entire way through this novel. Sometimes it seemed as though Ellie had to be telling the truth, sometimes it seemed impossible that it could have been kind Suzannah who had abruptly put life on hold to care for her elderly mother with dementia. I genuinely had no idea what the truth was until the very end.

I also really enjoyed the media/social media aspect of this novel. Wendy James has done a fantastic job at highlighting how things can be distorted by the media and will make you question everything you see online.

5 stars!

Synopsis

Eighteen-year-old Ellie Canning is found shivering and barely conscious on a country road, clad only in ill-fitting pyjamas. Her story of kidnap and escape quickly enthrals the nation: a middle-aged woman with a crazy old mother has held Ellie in a basement, chained her to a bed and given her drinks from an old baby’s sippy cup. But who was this woman and what did she want with Ellie? And what other secrets might she hide?

When the accusation is levelled at local teacher Suzannah Wells, no one seems more bewildered than Suzannah herself … to start with. The preposterous charge becomes manifestly more real as she loses her job and her friends. And the evidence is strong: a dementia-affected mother, a house with a basement, a sippy cup that belonged to her long-dead daughter. And Ellie Canning’s DNA everywhere. As stories about Susannah’s past emerge, even those closest to her begin to doubt she’s innocent.

And Ellie? The media can’t get enough of her. She’s a girl-power icon, a social-media star. But is she telling the truth?

A powerful exploration of the fragility of trust, and the power of suggestion, from the author of The Golden Child and The Mistake.

PRAISE FOR THE GOLDEN CHILD

‘The novel is cleverly constructed, the characters are extremely well-drawn, the use of social media as a plot device is very sophisticated, and the resolution is a genuine surprise’ Judges’ report, Ned Kelly Crime Awards, 2017

‘This is domestic noir at its most intelligent and sharp’ Sydney Morning Herald

‘It takes 48 hours to pulse through Wendy James’ rollercoaster 21st century story about parenting’ Australian Women’s Weekly

‘an engaging and intimate read that will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult, with nods to Lionel Shriver and Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap . . . 4 Stars’ Books & Publishing

‘This book is utterly brilliant’ Nicola Moriarty’

Details

Author: Wendy James

Published: May 20th 2019 by HarperCollins – AU

Source: Publisher

Read: Paperback, 352 pages, 2019

Goodreads

Amazon AU

Amazon US