Scrublands – Chris Hammer

What do Gillian Flynn, Minette Walters, Patricia Cornwall and Chris Hammer all have in common. Some might even ask ‘Chris who?’. But the novice Australian ‘whodunnit’ writer joins that elite company by winning the UK’s Dagger Award last year for a debut crime novel. And, as tilts go, even I, a non officiendo of the genre, till recent times, can see it’s a mighty effort first up.

Prior to striking it big with the mega-selling ‘Scrublands’, Hammer was best known as a SBS journalist. He, in this capacity, reported on the Millennial Drought for the network, afterwards producing a well-received non-fiction tome, ‘The River’, on what he discovered. As is their wont, of course, those in power in Canberra ignored his warnings, as well as those of all the other doomsayers – so therefore we have our present day situation.

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Our continent’s barrenness and aridity has played out in much recent fiction, some outstanding, including Harper’s ‘The Dry’ and Winton’s superb ‘Shepherd’s Hut’. In my view Hammer has a way to go before he reaches their exalted levels, but if we are in the midst of a golden age of Aussie crime writing, then this fellow would seem to be well at its core.

Now what would cause a well-liked local priest to take a gun out and calmly open fire on his congregation as they made their way to worship at his church? He killed five before being fatally shot himself. On the first anniversary of that event that, not only rocked the small parched community of Riversend, but the whole nation, the Fairfax Press sends ace reporter, Martin Scarsdale, to write a piece on the lasting effects of the tragedy. In doing so he soon encounters anomalies in the original investigation’s take on what made a church official inflict such trauma on his flock. There are yet more deaths, including that of two German backpackers. Can they be linked to the priest – and just how many local women has God’s representative bedded? Of course, Scarsdale also has his own demons to work his way through, perhaps with the assistance of a comely cafe-keeper.

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It is a marvellously convoluted plot that Hammer has pieced together in his mind and placed on the pages before us. The only issue for this reader is that there’s not the wordsmithery to match. On the back cover blurb Hammer is described as ‘Winton-like’ and ‘reminiscent of Jane Harper’. I think that’s overstating it. For my money he’s still a way off that…but give him time. There’s potential, so we’ll see.

The author’s website = https://chrishammerauthor.com/ =

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