Scrublands, Chris Hammer

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Scrublands
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Book Synopsis

Sent to report on the aftermath of a multiple shooting one year on, Martin Scarsden is operating largely on the automation of years of reporting experience.   A terrifying war zone incident has left its mark on the journalist who is grimly carrying on with his career despite the sizeable dents made into his mental wellbeing.  To Martin’s jaded eyes, Riversend seems to be your typical gently fading outback town - definitely impoverished, sparsely populated and if it were not for the murders of the previous year, largely unremarkable.  What made the town’s priest open fire on its residents immediately before a weekend service is still a mystery and will likely never be resolved due to the death-by-cop of the shooter.   Martin sets out to interview the key players and incrementally begins to form his own ideas on why the deaths occurred.

What is evident early on to Martin is that the events as reported by a colleague at the time of the shootings are not marrying up with the recollections being related to him now in the present day. For such a remote community, the loss of five of its men was a huge blow and has wrought huge changes in the lives of people used to the world largely only passing through their tiny home town.  When two bodies are found in the local dam, the outside world again turns its attention to Riversend.

Book Review

What is evident early on to Martin is that the events as reported by a colleague at the time of the shootings are not marrying up with the recollections being related to him now in the present day. For such a remote community, the loss of five of its men was a huge blow and has wrought huge changes in the lives of people used to the world largely only passing through their tiny home town.  When two bodies are found in the local dam, the outside world again turns its attention to Riversend.

What might strike the reader first is that SCRUBLANDS reeks of authenticity. Everything from the language of the residents, the post-apocalyptic feel of the outback bush town, the malevolence of an Australian summer (where yes, everything pretty well wants to kill you) is dead on point.   Australian readers will recognize so much in this novel they’ll just about be able to convince themselves they’ve visited this fictional location at some point.  The map at the front of the book is a welcome inclusion (you have to love a good map, they are always useful) and that will help the reader navigate about the town right along with protagonist Martin who is encountering Riversend for the first time also.

The setting of SCRUBLANDS is almost another character as the climate of the outback lends its own threat of possible destruction by bushfire at any time.  It is wielded to great effect as all the necessary adjustments to living in a town undergoing an extended drought require constant attention.

Dealing with one crisis after another, the least of which being the possible early demise of his career, Martin Scarsden needs to stay on point and you do feel for the character as he battles to keep himself focused on the task at hand.  Some inclusions may make you groan (the May/December hook up, throwing an inexperienced townie into a bushfire effort, the set up and strike down of Martin repeatedly from town hero to unwelcome intruder) but we can put those down to first fictional novel inclusions.  (Chris Hammer also has written a well-received work of nonfiction).

Set yourself aside a day where its just you and the pets in the house and you’ll keenly knock off the reading of SCRUBLANDS in one sitting.  This will be the novel that all crime fiction fans will want to make sure they’ve demolished before their next mixed gathering and let’s call it now, this novel would translate extremely well to the small screen.  Readers of crime and mystery are more than ready to take in another bush crime novel, and SCRUBLANDS is a terrific read that has ‘bestseller’ written all over it.     

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