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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 ab 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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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 ab 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.

30 review for Scrublands

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paromjit

    Chris Hammer joins the rising number of illustrious writers in the Aussie Noir genre, and his debut novel is a humdinger of a riveting and atmospheric crime read. It is set in the remote and isolated dying town of Riverend, surrounded by mulga scrubland. It has acquired a notorious reputation as the place where a charismatic and popular young priest, Byron Swift, inexplicably shot and killed 5 people at St James Church, only to be shot dead himself by Constable Robbie Haus-Jones. Riverend has be Chris Hammer joins the rising number of illustrious writers in the Aussie Noir genre, and his debut novel is a humdinger of a riveting and atmospheric crime read. It is set in the remote and isolated dying town of Riverend, surrounded by mulga scrubland. It has acquired a notorious reputation as the place where a charismatic and popular young priest, Byron Swift, inexplicably shot and killed 5 people at St James Church, only to be shot dead himself by Constable Robbie Haus-Jones. Riverend has been in the grip of a long term scorching and never ending unbearable heat with no end in sight, threatening peoples livelihoods and sanity. Amidst the background of the parched and devastated landscape, lurk desperate dangers, such as regular apocalyptic bush fires wiping out homes, livestock, and threatening human lives. Suffering from PTSD after a harrowing assignment in Gaza where he became the story, middle aged journalist, Martin Scarsden has been sent to write a human interest feature on Riversend to document how the town has fared a year after the events at St James Church. It is meant to be a straight forward report but it turns out to be anything but. For a start, Martin is startled by the number of townsfolk that hold the priest in such high regard, including those who lost family members in the shooting spree. He meets young twentysomething single mother, Mandalay 'Mandy' Blonde, with her toddler son, Liam, running a bookshop/cafe, who hints that there is more to Swift than the paedophile he has been painted as, and encourages Swift to look deeper into the priest and what lies behind what happened at the church. Finding many locals hostile to his presence initially, Martin begins to embed himself in the community after helping fight a nightmare of a bushfire and saving a young man's life. However, events overtake Martin and Riversend, when bodies are unearthed that result in the place once again becoming the eye of a media storm with the descent of a huge number of journalists looking for the latest exclusive. Martin finds himself tested to his limits as he finds himself becoming more self aware and questioning the nature of his profession and career, and not much liking the insights he gains into himself. Hammer gives us complex storytelling with multiple threads that include the drugs trade, biker gangs, the murders of German backpackers, rape, abuse, fraud, the intelligence services, the shootings, atonement and the repercussions of tragedies that interconnect in unexpected ways. Riversend is a seething hotbed of horror, trauma, secrets, deception and lies, but it is also a place that is beginning to steal Martin's heart as he contemplates the possibility that for the first time in his life he is in love, but numerous obstacles litter his path, not least his professional career. Hammer's characterisation is stellar with a host of characters that make an impact, not only Martin, Mandy, Fran, Byron, and others, but additionally gems that made an impression on me such as the old man, Codger, living in the remote scrublands by himself. The sweltering heat, burning into the town and land, is an overriding character in its own right, destructive and ever present, inescapable, ravenous in its appetite for devouring life. Hammer brilliantly depicts and captures the heat and its impact, a recent feature of real life contemporary Australia. This is a fantastic first novel that had me enthralled and looking forward to what Hammer writes next. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Headline for an ARC.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Beata

    Just as I started reading SCRUBLANDS, I was totally invested in the story about a journalist who comes to a small town, Riversend to write an article on a shooting that occurred one year ago. From the very beginning the place, suffering from heat and a long span of drought, is equally important as the main characters and adds to the intensity of the story. Martin Scarsden, who has had different careers in his life, is moderately interested in the task, however, he gradually becomes engaged and w Just as I started reading SCRUBLANDS, I was totally invested in the story about a journalist who comes to a small town, Riversend to write an article on a shooting that occurred one year ago. From the very beginning the place, suffering from heat and a long span of drought, is equally important as the main characters and adds to the intensity of the story. Martin Scarsden, who has had different careers in his life, is moderately interested in the task, however, he gradually becomes engaged and wants to understand why a priest shot five members of his parish before he himself got killed by a police officer. SCRUBLANDS turned out to be a page-turner for me and although it is a long novel, I read it whenever I found some spare time. I loved the omnipresent heat, actually the weather was exactly the same in Poland while I was reading this novel, the descriptions of the places, so exotic to me, however, what really kept me invested was the fact that nothing is what it seems to be and no-one is who they claim to be … One of the most unpredictable plots I have followed recently. I am grateful to my GR Friends whose reviews encouraged me to choose this novel.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Australian Rural Crime has arrived, there are novels showing up everywhere claiming this as their sub-genre, and SCRUBLANDS is the one that everyone is talking about. Film rights have been sold, everyone's reading it, most are raving about the book. So having a contrary opinion is obviously going to go down like a lead balloon, but in this case, this reader has to beg to differ. Personally, after reading, SCRUBLANDS, it's staying with me as an airport thriller style novel shoe-horned into a rural Australian Rural Crime has arrived, there are novels showing up everywhere claiming this as their sub-genre, and SCRUBLANDS is the one that everyone is talking about. Film rights have been sold, everyone's reading it, most are raving about the book. So having a contrary opinion is obviously going to go down like a lead balloon, but in this case, this reader has to beg to differ. Personally, after reading, SCRUBLANDS, it's staying with me as an airport thriller style novel shoe-horned into a rural setting. A rural setting that has some questionable elements to it. I'm not at all sure where the idea that a CFA crew would suddenly scoop up a complete outsider, chuck him in some borrowed gear and let him head into a firestorm to help the local cop with a rescue comes from - I know the shitstorm that would arise after it though. I'm also not that sure where the idea that twelve months after the local priest shot dead five men it would take an incoming journalist to ask "what was that all about". I'm also not convinced that police would be blabbing their heads off about the whys and wherefores of an investigation and what actually happened on the day to aforementioned journalist when there was an ongoing investigation, but there you go. And I'm absolutely 100% over the idea that every eligible women in a small town would sleep with anybody and anything that wanders by ... because of well boredom or lack of self-respect caused by other blokes, or whatever the hell was being suggested here. Maybe I'm just picky but something about SCRUBLANDS got up my nose. The procedural aspects were off, the rural setting seems to consist of a bloke wandering around bitching about how hot it was in the sun (no shit sherlock) and the observations of the impact of drought were ... well odd. As for the ending - with all it's happy every after, good bloke, oh look it's raining... So this is a novel, set in the Riverina, where in 45 minutes you go from "paradise" on the banks of running river in a drought, to "hell" in the form of a mostly abandoned small town in which an unthinkable multiple murder took place. Add to the mix a journalist with a hefty dose of PTSD, a beautiful young woman who is seemingly stuck in the dying town running a second hand bookshop and cafe, the widow of one of the murdered men running the local store, a derro (who lives on one of the major farms / with water available from a spring... what oh for goodness sake, the farm is just out of town, the family are the local "family" - and everyone knows that), and then there's a services club hanging on by it's fingernails and a closed down pub. To be clear, the pub was closed down by an incomer, the priest who shot everyone was an incomer, the weird couple living out in the Scrublands surrounding the town are incomers, the bikies who keep roaring through town on their bikes are incomers, and the only person asking the hard questions is an incomer journalist. To be really clear about this I am really pleased that there is such a beast as rural crime doing the rounds in Australia these days, but I think we have to be careful to understand the difference between books about rural issues and books set in rural areas. SCRUBLANDS is very much a book set in a rural location, which to be frank, has some criminal activity that could have occurred anywhere. For this reader there's no real sense of a rural town, there's no real sense of rural issues, and there's no real sense of the damage, trauma and deprivation of drought. Worse still there's a lot of simplistic lip service, some insulting generalisations and a good bloke, happy ever after ending that was stroke inducingly annoying. To be fair, perhaps it works as a bit of a yarn, and if happy ever after is what you're looking for, it'll work and be a very satisfying read. If you're looking for insight in what it's truly like in another part of the world (which lets face it rural Australia is for most Australian's let alone those from other locales), then this isn't that book. https://www.austcrimefiction.org/revi...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kylie D

    Riversend is a town on the edge. Plagued by drought, fires, and a priest that opened fire on his parishioners, killing five before being shot dead by police. A year after the tragedy tormented journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in town to write an article about how the town is recovering from the tragedy, only to find that delving into the past has consequences, possibly fatal ones, and the townspeople are hiding more than what was uncovered in the original investigation. A wonderful book, with b Riversend is a town on the edge. Plagued by drought, fires, and a priest that opened fire on his parishioners, killing five before being shot dead by police. A year after the tragedy tormented journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in town to write an article about how the town is recovering from the tragedy, only to find that delving into the past has consequences, possibly fatal ones, and the townspeople are hiding more than what was uncovered in the original investigation. A wonderful book, with believable characters and great descriptions of a town in crisis, Chris Hammer delivers a plot so twisty and turny that you wont see what's coming from one page to the next. A true page turner, I can't wait to see what the author has for us next. Highly recommended.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tammy

    A lot goes on in this novel and I do mean a lot. A seasoned but burned-out journalist descends upon a dying town in the Australian outback to cover the aftermath of a mass shooting. Over the course of two weeks he encounters suicides, romance, murders, a car accident, fires and on and on. This novel is overcrowded with occurrences. The romance is a bit creepy and should have been cut but I did like the portrayal of some very eccentric characters. I do think this is a solid debut and look forward A lot goes on in this novel and I do mean a lot. A seasoned but burned-out journalist descends upon a dying town in the Australian outback to cover the aftermath of a mass shooting. Over the course of two weeks he encounters suicides, romance, murders, a car accident, fires and on and on. This novel is overcrowded with occurrences. The romance is a bit creepy and should have been cut but I did like the portrayal of some very eccentric characters. I do think this is a solid debut and look forward to what this author writes next.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Scrublands, the almost desert like territory outside of a small rural town in Australia. Where the village priest shot five men from the steps of his church, and no one has figured out why he did it. Where his friend and local cop then shot the priest. Where rumors have spread, but few solid answers are known. Where a reporter with a history is sent to write a feature a year later focusing on how the town has recovered or not. A longish book, a slow moving, detailed story, and I loved it. Martin, Scrublands, the almost desert like territory outside of a small rural town in Australia. Where the village priest shot five men from the steps of his church, and no one has figured out why he did it. Where his friend and local cop then shot the priest. Where rumors have spread, but few solid answers are known. Where a reporter with a history is sent to write a feature a year later focusing on how the town has recovered or not. A longish book, a slow moving, detailed story, and I loved it. Martin, the reporter finds himself drawn into the lives of the this town, the mystery of the why, and this will embroil him into things he never thought possible. Uncover some long standing secrets and meet some of the town misfits, suffering tragedies of their own. The author does a great job showing how reporters descend on a town, like locusts, when there is a story to uncover. How what they write, right or wrong, has such power, often eliciting more harm than help. Like Jane Harper's, The Lost man, things are uncovered at their own pace, each revelation bringing new questions, new paths of investigation. In fact tone and setting have some similiarities, but here there is more than one family involved. A terrific story, with some unique characters and a mystery that turns into several. ARC from Edelweiss

  7. 5 out of 5

    PattyMacDotComma

    5★ “Blaming him. Christ. And he thought the day couldn’t get any worse. It’s not even 9.30 am. ‘I’ve got to go, Martin, but if I were you, I’d be making myself scarce. No one is going to want to know you after this.’” Martin Scarsden, former soldier, foreign correspondent, handsome young, love-‘em-and-leave-‘em charmer. Former. Now 40 and a little tired around the edges, he is a journalist for the highly respected Sydney Morning Herald, and his editor has sent him to a small country town to get aw 5★ “Blaming him. Christ. And he thought the day couldn’t get any worse. It’s not even 9.30 am. ‘I’ve got to go, Martin, but if I were you, I’d be making myself scarce. No one is going to want to know you after this.’” Martin Scarsden, former soldier, foreign correspondent, handsome young, love-‘em-and-leave-‘em charmer. Former. Now 40 and a little tired around the edges, he is a journalist for the highly respected Sydney Morning Herald, and his editor has sent him to a small country town to get away from city pressures and write a feature piece. Martin still suffers nightmares from his time in Gaza as a correspondent, and Riversend looks like a sleepy little place, after having suffered a national front-page nightmare of its own almost a year ago. The popular local priest suddenly shot and killed a group of men outside his church one Sunday morning and was then killed by the local constable. Martin’s just supposed to take it easy report on how the town is coping on its first anniversary. Hot. The overwhelming sense of the place is hot. 40 degree days (104F) and drought. His first impressions aren’t great. He parks the car and steps out for a wander, checking his phone for Google maps. “Christ, no mobile phone. He hadn’t thought of that. He regards the town as he might a foreign land.” Returning to the car: “Getting into the car is no easy task. Martin wets his fingers with his tongue, so he can grab the doorhandle for long enough to swing it open, . . . The seatbelt buckle has been sitting in the sun and is too hot to handle; Martin goes without. He drapes the once-damp towel around the steering wheel so he can hold it.” It’s beginning to feel more like the war zones he’s come from, I think. It’s also flat, treeless and can seem other-worldly. “He looks away to the horizon, shimmering and ill-defined under the harsh sunlight, the sun that should lift all shadows but instead blurs the edges of the world, renders the horizon debatable, so that it’s impossible to tell land from sky.” The town is tiny and partly deserted with shops that are open only at odd hours on odd days. There’s a large, slightly posher, greener town about 40km away further along the river where there is still water. That’s where most tourists and reporters choose to stay. But Martin is supposed to be getting local colour for his story, so he checks into the Black Dog Motel. The owner says they named it 40 years ago, and it’s not their fault some “bunch of losers like the sound of it”. Unfortunately, the clunk of the old air conditioner is very reminiscent of sounds from his traumatic Gaza experience, which doesn’t augur well for a good night’s sleep. His relaxing feature article rapidly becomes the deepest sort of investigative journalism as his years of experience kick in and he notices small anomalies and inconsistencies in what people say. All rumours have a way of expanding to include new bits of “information”, and he can’t leave it alone. In the past, he’s written quickly, “like a bull at a gate, anxious to publish and move on to the next story.” More murders are discovered, and now he’s become involved with someone and having trouble deciding what information to use and what to leave out. “It would elevate an already remarkable story to a sensational one. Just add sex and stir. A younger Martin wouldn’t have hesitated; he’d have written it all: . . .” But you’ll have to read it yourself to find all the rabbit holes he goes down and the creepy people he meets, young and old, and how he faces the onslaught of reporters who descend on the town later and follow people “with the persistence of bush flies.” I enjoyed this being told by a journalist who had to think through his thoughts, go over his notes, consider what to write about and when. It certainly helped me to piece the information together and sent me down a couple of rabbit holes – dead ends, though, I have to admit. They give some insight into the journalistic process, when to grab a scoop (Martin’s usual bull-at-the-gate approach), and when to sit on confidential information in the hope of getting the bigger story. It’s a great story – several stories, actually, with the kind of interwoven characters you get in semi-isolated societies where people know each other’s back stories, or think they do.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Smith

    I’ve got a penchant for Aussie authors, of late. Having been introduced to Liane Moriarty through the excellent Big Little Lies I worked my way through her full catalogue and then devoured the three books written to date by Jane Harper. For me there’s something about the culture and the place that sets these books apart. The characters are often outspoken, bordering on rudeness, and the non-city settings in particular are dramatic and paint pictures that really help to create a startling backdro I’ve got a penchant for Aussie authors, of late. Having been introduced to Liane Moriarty through the excellent Big Little Lies I worked my way through her full catalogue and then devoured the three books written to date by Jane Harper. For me there’s something about the culture and the place that sets these books apart. The characters are often outspoken, bordering on rudeness, and the non-city settings in particular are dramatic and paint pictures that really help to create a startling backdrop to the stories. For someone brought up on a diet of mostly American and British novels these books offer something refreshingly different. This book came highly recommended and it’s setting reminds me somewhat of Harper’s brilliant standalone novel The Dry. Set in and around a small town called Riversend, in Eastern New South Wales, the book opens with the description of a mass shooting carried out by a young priest. The priest himself is then shot dead by a local copper. It’s a shocking scene, with no explanation supplied as to the motive. Twelve months later, a journalist named Martin Scarsden comes to the town intent on writing a piece about how the town is coping one year on. The town is sparsely populated and everyone seems linked in some way to the tragic event. Amongst these there’s the young and attractive Mandalay Blonde who runs local bookstore/coffee shop and a bunch of colourful local blokes with names like Codger and Snouch. Scarsden soon identifies that the locals are divided on their views about the priest, some thought him a local hero who helped out the youngsters of the area and was a force for good, whilst others held a very different view. And now a new discovery is to shake the town as the bodies of two female backpackers are discovered in the scrublands outside of town. As Scarsden doggedly seeks out information to inform his piece he begins to forge alliances and build relationships too. Soon tensions build amongst some in the community as the journalist’s drive to write and publish his story causes conflict and brings into debate the the rights and wrongs of opening up every truth the the paper’s readership – perhaps some things are better not said. And it’s become apparent that Scarsden himself is suffering from demons brought on by an episode in the Gazza Strip a while back, how will this impact his ability to effectively fulfil his brief? There are plot twists aplenty as events start to play out from this point in this complex and riveting tale. Are there just too many elements, too many twists? I don’t think so, but there is a need to play close attention if you’re going to stay on top of this one. In my view this brilliantly crafted thriller with a cast of interesting characters who exist in this sun-baked and drought-stricken land works just perfectly. Top fiction this, I’d advise you to grab a copy in time for your holiday and tuck it away in your suitcase – and I’d suggest you wont want to be disturbed too much once you’ve settled on your beach bed with this one.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    Journalist Martin Scarsden was sent from his newspaper in Sydney, to the small town of Riversend in rural Victoria to cover the one year anniversary of the killings by a young priest of five members of his congregation, and how the town was coping in the aftermath of the tragedy. The incessant heat, the relentless drought, the hopelessness of the people – all struck Martin immediately. Shops had closed, the pub was no longer in operation – was the town dying? But as Martin tried to interview the Journalist Martin Scarsden was sent from his newspaper in Sydney, to the small town of Riversend in rural Victoria to cover the one year anniversary of the killings by a young priest of five members of his congregation, and how the town was coping in the aftermath of the tragedy. The incessant heat, the relentless drought, the hopelessness of the people – all struck Martin immediately. Shops had closed, the pub was no longer in operation – was the town dying? But as Martin tried to interview the few people who would talk to him, he heard things that didn’t gel with what he thought he knew. Was there a different story to be told? He decided to find out, even if it amounted to nothing. But he realized, with gut-clenching surety, that there was darkness, secrets and danger in the small town and its surrounding scrublands – and there were people who would stop at nothing to keep those secrets hidden… Scrublands is an intense and fast-paced thriller by Aussie author Chris Hammer, and my first read by him. I found it to be a little drawn out and convoluted, repetitive in places – but tense and chilling. There were plenty of twists to the story as well, but I was disappointed in the amount of unnecessary obscene language. In my opinion an author isn’t a good writer if he needs to continually use profanities to get his point across. Recommended for fans of the genre. With thanks to Allen & Unwin for my uncorrected proof ARC to which I have given an honest review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Hands from Hell The main elements of the story: Heat (intense), Sex (non-graphic), Media (crass), Politics (dirty), Religion (not too serious), Dead Animals (cows, kangaroos, and cats) and Murders (many, apparently unmotivated). All these elements are repeated again and again by several or more characters, presumably so that the reader doesn’t forget how hellish the Riverina of New South Wales really is. Oh, and one more element: Hands (one pair), belonging to the journalist in whom all the othe Hands from Hell The main elements of the story: Heat (intense), Sex (non-graphic), Media (crass), Politics (dirty), Religion (not too serious), Dead Animals (cows, kangaroos, and cats) and Murders (many, apparently unmotivated). All these elements are repeated again and again by several or more characters, presumably so that the reader doesn’t forget how hellish the Riverina of New South Wales really is. Oh, and one more element: Hands (one pair), belonging to the journalist in whom all the other elements connect. The hands are variously described as insipid, useless, limp, purposeless, pathetic, ageless, old and young, sullied and innocent, the hands of a witness and the hands of a note taker. They appear unaccountably in every chapter. As a clue? As a literary trope? As a running gag? Or just a concise symbol of all the “greed and hate, guilt and hope” as well as sundry other emotions produced by those hands? Every kind of journalistic schmaltz available in one fictional package as it were. Actually the whole of Scrublands is clearly an extended screenplay. The repetitions are director’s notes for each scene to remind the actors why they’re there and the audience what the complicated plot is about. The largely irrelevant details of movement - walking/driving from point A to point B; opening/closing doors, sight angles, etc.- are instructions for the cameramen - wide shot to close up, panning, context-setting, etc. And the pace between action and interior dialogue is perfect for film although often excruciatingly slow for print. The detailed descriptions of interiors are plans for the cinematic scene-creators. A complete production package therefore. So keep an eye out for ‘a major motion picture’ in the very near future. The Aussie-isms should go viral. I’m feeling Alex O’Loughlin for the lead but I’m open on that. if anyone has a clue what those hands are really about, I’d love to chat.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Zoeytron

    Lies and calumnies, a loss of perspective, the past bearing down.    One year ago, a priest laid waste to five men, coolly mowing them down from the front steps of the church. The priest is then shot and killed by the town constable.  Who was this priest?  A man of God, an impostor with an agenda, or something else entirely?  Journalist Martin Scarsden is sent to Riversend to do a followup article on how the town is faring after the horrific affair. He finds the small town to be withering, dying Lies and calumnies, a loss of perspective, the past bearing down.    One year ago, a priest laid waste to five men, coolly mowing them down from the front steps of the church. The priest is then shot and killed by the town constable.  Who was this priest?  A man of God, an impostor with an agenda, or something else entirely?  Journalist Martin Scarsden is sent to Riversend to do a followup article on how the town is faring after the horrific affair. He finds the small town to be withering, dying on the vine. Desiccated by drought, heat that is unrelenting, a torpor that is rendered palpable.  Questions remain unanswered, two more bodies surface, and the journo starts digging to fill in the blanks.   For those of you who have already read this, can you shed any light on this?  (view spoiler)[Martin Scarsden seems to be overly preoccupied with his hands.  Mentioned any number of times, referring to them as purposeless, soft, limp, etc. . . . what's up with that?  If it is meant to be an allegory, I was unable to grasp hold of it.  Help! (hide spoiler)]    A crackerjack fiction debut by journalist Chris Hammer.  Australian noir, interesting characters.  Mayhap a tad too much going on, and I would have appreciated a darker ending, but that is simply a personal preference.  Good stuff here, and I look forward to his next novel with great anticipation.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Krystal

    Droughts are honestly not the most fun reading but you know what's fun? A single mystery that turns into another mystery and then forks into more mystery until you're all tangled up in whodunnits. This was long, but held my attention the entire way and had me bamboozled for most of that. The Plot: Martin is a journalist with a troubled past, sent to a small country town to do a feature on how the town is coping a year after a beloved priest shot five people in cold blood. As Martin gets to know Droughts are honestly not the most fun reading but you know what's fun? A single mystery that turns into another mystery and then forks into more mystery until you're all tangled up in whodunnits. This was long, but held my attention the entire way and had me bamboozled for most of that. The Plot: Martin is a journalist with a troubled past, sent to a small country town to do a feature on how the town is coping a year after a beloved priest shot five people in cold blood. As Martin gets to know the townspeople, he learns that there is more than one story in this drought-stricken town ... Not gonna lie, Martin was kind of a douchebag. There is a reason people hate the nosiness of journalists and this story confirms rather than denies that behaviour, with Martin constantly putting his 'duty to tell the public the truth' first. Not entirely sure why so many of the town's inhabitants warmed to him so quickly, but I guess it wouldn't have made much of a story if they didn't. It is a really long story, but it seems like every character has their own minor plot line in it, so it definitely stays interesting. It's also fun to try and work out which stories link and what's a red herring and how much is actually true accounts from the lying townspeople. It did my head in good and proper. There's also there's the oppressive heat which quite honestly I'm tired of reading about in Aussie crime novels - no wonder people who have never been to Australia think our entire country is 'The Outback'. We get plenty of crime here in the city, too. But the heat makes a good metaphor for struggle, and it wasn't too draining here. I mean, it made me a little thirsty but that's about it. The character development was pretty decent, as you come to know these small town people who are all keeping secrets. I honestly don't know how people can bear the monotony of living in a small town and seeing the same people every single day. What a drainer. Overall, this is a really decent mystery. There's plenty of action, and clues, and it'll likely keep you guessing right up til the end. It works hard to place you in the town so that you can feel the heat and sense the solitude. It's written well so that there are a dozen threads to follow but they are all tied off by the end. I really enjoyed reading this. If you're up for a thriller that will keep you guessing, and you don't mind hot, small-town settings, this one should tick all the boxes. This was book 9 of my #dymocks52challenge refined. You can read more here.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Phrynne

    There seem to be an awful lot of crime books set in the Australian bush lately and the authors appear to be competing with each other to have the hottest outback setting. In this book the MC spits on his fingers before he can touch the doorhandle of his car! I never heard of that one before. Anyway Scrublands is a good book. The main plot lines are good, the characters are interesting and the romance does not get in the way of everything else. My only problem was that there were too many side iss There seem to be an awful lot of crime books set in the Australian bush lately and the authors appear to be competing with each other to have the hottest outback setting. In this book the MC spits on his fingers before he can touch the doorhandle of his car! I never heard of that one before. Anyway Scrublands is a good book. The main plot lines are good, the characters are interesting and the romance does not get in the way of everything else. My only problem was that there were too many side issues which made the book too involved and too long. Towards the end there was so much explaining to be done to clear everything up that my interest waned a bit. So for me it was a good read which would have been even better with a bit more editing

  14. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    Scrublands is a multilayered investigative crime novel which starts off as a seemingly simple assignment for journalist Martin Scarsden when he is sent by the Sydney Morning Herald to write a follow up feature on a mass shooting that occurred a year ago. Martin is still having nightmares about his last assignment in the Gaza strip where he endured a horrifying experience that nearly killed him and his editor thinks this assignment will help him recover. When Martin arrives in the small rural tow Scrublands is a multilayered investigative crime novel which starts off as a seemingly simple assignment for journalist Martin Scarsden when he is sent by the Sydney Morning Herald to write a follow up feature on a mass shooting that occurred a year ago. Martin is still having nightmares about his last assignment in the Gaza strip where he endured a horrifying experience that nearly killed him and his editor thinks this assignment will help him recover. When Martin arrives in the small rural town of Riversend near Hay in the NSW Riverina, he finds a dying town on its last legs. The extreme heat and drought have been relentless and all is turning to dust. The businesses are mostly closed and even the vibrant pub where the journalists stayed a year ago is empty and derelict. The only place left to stay is a seedy run down motel and just finding a cup off coffee looks impossible tough until Martin discovers the bookshop where the beautiful single mother Mandalay Blonde sells coffee and muffins. Although it is a year since the Anglican minister Byron Swift shot dead five local men outside his church before being shot dead by the local policeman, no one seems to understand what drove this well liked man to do it. As Martin gets to know the locals he discovers a lot going on beneath the surface. It seems Byron Swift was more than he made out to be and the town is not the peaceful community described at the time of the shooting. When a ferocious bushfire sweeps through the scrublands outside of town and the bodies of two German backpackers are found, it’s as if a fuse is lit and the pieces start to fall into place. Chris Hammer displays all his journalistic skills in relating this story with insights into the politcs and practices of the media. His writing is so evocative and atmospheric that I could feel the red dust and heat of the drought sticking to my skin and feel the overwhelming force of the bushfire burning all in its tracks. His characters are complex and unique: Martin overcoming PTSD, more interested in truth than social niceties but perhaps acting as a catalyst for the truth to come out, Mandalay struggling to cope with being back in the town after her mother’s death and the two old men living in their very different domains in the scrublands, Codger Harris and Harley Snouch, who both know more than they’re telling. An excellent Australian crime novel, one I expect to see in the lists of Award winners before too long. With thanks to Allen and Unwin for a copy of the book to read

  15. 5 out of 5

    Calzean

    Could there be anymore Australian caricatures then what’s in this book? A drought, bushfire, paedophilia involving the clergy, PTSD, returned soldiers from Afghanistan, a dying town, a broken man, a beautiful local, dopey cops, bikie gangs, drug trade, domestic violence, national secrets, family secrets, media fake news, rape, a nutty hermit, teenage drug use, back packer murders and a surprised inheritance. It’s all a bit too busy.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Hammer’s Australian noir novel takes place in Riversend, the rural heart of Western New South Wales. Max, Martin Scarsden’s editor at the Sydney Morning Herald, has sent Martin to this run down town to write a follow-up to a horrific murder that occurred a year ago. It should be an easy assignment—perfect for the journalist still recovering from PTSD resulting from a life-threatening stint in Gaza. The infamous murder involved the local priest shooting five men at close range from the steps of h Hammer’s Australian noir novel takes place in Riversend, the rural heart of Western New South Wales. Max, Martin Scarsden’s editor at the Sydney Morning Herald, has sent Martin to this run down town to write a follow-up to a horrific murder that occurred a year ago. It should be an easy assignment—perfect for the journalist still recovering from PTSD resulting from a life-threatening stint in Gaza. The infamous murder involved the local priest shooting five men at close range from the steps of his church. What Martin’s investigation discovers is a town harboring secrets that reveal themselves like Russian nesting dolls. The priest Bryan Swift proves to have a secret past. And the twists and turns just keep coming, involving four interrelated major crimes. Hammer’s characters (and names) are wonderfully memorable—the beautiful Mandalay Blonde, residents Codger Harris and Harley Snouch, and the constable Robbie Haus-Jones. Even the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) gets involved. But this is more than a murder mystery, Martin starts questioning his journalistic career. He is man in his 40s that made his reputation by grabbing a scoop and running with it; and giving little thought to holding confidential information for a bigger story. What journalistic ethics should he be following? [Hammer worked as an Australian journalist for over 30 years and lends authenticity to Martin’s story.] Of note, Hammer’s subplot involving a bush fire in the mulga scrublands is excellent—particularly in light of the recent wildfires in Australia. His descriptions of the fire are positively harrowing. And I learned that inhaling the super-heated air is what causes death—not the smoke—it fries the lungs. Sitting in a swimming pool won’t help. Recommend this well-written debut novel. I look forward to reading more of Hammer’s work.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kelly (and the Book Boar)

    Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ The reason behind me wanting to read Scrublands unfortunately also ended up being the reason behind it falling short for me. That reason? Jane Harper. You see, after reading The Dry and The Lost Man I decided I couldn’t get enough of the Australian Outback and clicked the ol’ library request button lickity split when I found out about this one. The premise was a real good one too – a (literally) dried-up town in the middle of nowhe Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ The reason behind me wanting to read Scrublands unfortunately also ended up being the reason behind it falling short for me. That reason? Jane Harper. You see, after reading The Dry and The Lost Man I decided I couldn’t get enough of the Australian Outback and clicked the ol’ library request button lickity split when I found out about this one. The premise was a real good one too – a (literally) dried-up town in the middle of nowhere suffers from even more than drought when the local man of the cloth stands on the church steps and starts blowing his congregation away. The story follows journalist Martin who is sent to the town to follow up with a human interest story on how the folk there are surviving, but winds up involving himself in mystery upon mystery regarding secrets that no one wants to come out. Other than the fact that Chris Hammer isn’t quite the same caliber of storyteller that Jane Harper is, there were a couple of other problems with this book. First . . . . I know it makes me sound stupid, and heck I’m more than willing to admit I am, but I am a firm believer that it is a rare occasion where a mystery/thriller requires more than 350 pages to get the job done. Things need to be kept nice and tight in order for the pace to move steadily. When a bunch more pages (around 150 in this case) are added???? This story went from nice and tight to everything and its dog getting thrown into the mix with the additional “mysteries” and (not very well developed) characters resulting in a glacial progression and a Kelly and Mitchell who felt a bit bogged down by the end of it. And of course it's a series . . . .

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gaby

    Yikes. That was drawn-out and painful. I realise that this is not the type of book I typically read, but it sounded interesting and I was keen for a quick, easy read. I was very disappointed. The writing was clunky and predictably (stereotypically) 'Australian'. It was hard to plough through as nothing much was happening... That is, until everything happened. While reading this book, I spent most of my time gazing longingly at the other novels on my bedside table.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bianca

    3.5 * Scrublands has been heavily marketed in Australia and it was compared to Jane Harper's The Dry due to being set in the Australian outback. Forty-year-old journalist, Martin Scarsden, is sent to Riversend to write about how the community is coping a year after a much-loved priest killed five men. The long-lasting drought has parched everything, including people's spirits. Slowly, Martin gets to know the policeman who shot dead the priest and a few other town people, including a beautiful you 3.5 * Scrublands has been heavily marketed in Australia and it was compared to Jane Harper's The Dry due to being set in the Australian outback. Forty-year-old journalist, Martin Scarsden, is sent to Riversend to write about how the community is coping a year after a much-loved priest killed five men. The long-lasting drought has parched everything, including people's spirits. Slowly, Martin gets to know the policeman who shot dead the priest and a few other town people, including a beautiful young woman who owns a bookshop/cafe. As you'd expect, as otherwise there would be no point to the novel, Martin discovers all sort of things, including that nothing is as it seems. His article and discoveries make him first famous then infamous, so life gets complicated. Martin tries his best to untangle the many knots. This novel has lots of elements in it, arguably too many: there's a former special forces man, a priest who may or may not be a paedophile, dead backpackers, rape, affairs, drugs, bike gangs, hidden identities. I forgot to mention, Martin has PTSD following some unfortunate events from when he was a journalist in Gazza. Despite the many cliches, despite being too long and having too much crammed in, this was an interesting novel. The romantic affair wasn't necessary, truth be told, it read too much like an older man's wet dream. Sure, they're allowed to have them, I'm allowed to roll my eyes. When I began listening to this novel I thought to myself "let me guess, there'll be rain at the end?". Spoiler alert, the novel ends with one of the biggest cliches - rain as a cleansing/new beginning metaphor. In conclusion, Scrublands was enjoyable enough for me to spend over 13 hrs in its company. I would have enjoyed it more had it been given a good pruning. This novel goes towards my Aussie Author Challenge on www. bookloverbookreviews.com

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tucker

    In the past couple years I’ve had the opportunity to read some outstanding crime fiction set in Australia. New, or new to me, authors Jane Harper, Emma Viskic, and Candice Fox have all produced books with memorable and well developed characters, evocative descriptions of various areas of Australia, very suspenseful story lines, and superior writing. And the newest addition to that stellar group is Chris Hammer with his book “Scrublands.” Martin Scarsden is sent to an isolated and drought stricke In the past couple years I’ve had the opportunity to read some outstanding crime fiction set in Australia. New, or new to me, authors Jane Harper, Emma Viskic, and Candice Fox have all produced books with memorable and well developed characters, evocative descriptions of various areas of Australia, very suspenseful story lines, and superior writing. And the newest addition to that stellar group is Chris Hammer with his book “Scrublands.” Martin Scarsden is sent to an isolated and drought stricken community to report on the anniversary of a devastating tragedy - a beloved priest murdered five people and then was killed by police. Scarsden isn’t content to write a simple follow-up piece. His extensive experience as an investigative reporter won’t let him accept the pat explanation for the murders. In a complicated and compelling plot, I believed Scarsden unearthed the real story several times, and each time I was wrong. Besides being a great book, I was fascinated by Scarsden’s conflicting intentions of remaining an impassive, detached reporter, and his growing feelings of compassion and desire to protect innocent people. “She saw him as he was, as he’d always been: the journalist, putting his vocation before all else, a secular priest worshipping at the shrine of truth, careless of who might get hurt in its telling.” “He was involved; he had no God-given leave pass, no right to stand apart from the story, apart from life. He was a participant, like it or not. Things no longer happened only to other people; some small part of their grief, or their joy, or their hollowness wore off on him, became part of him. How had he ever thought otherwise?” I may be wrong in presuming this, but my impression was that Hammer was conveying some of the conflicting emotions and motivations he experienced as a long time reporter. This aspect of the book greatly added to the depth and appreciation I had for it. I’m highly recommending “Scrublands” and hope it receives the broad audience it deserves.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Melki

    In an isolated country town afflicted by interminable drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, shooting dead five parishioners before being gunned down himself. This one had a knock-your-socks-off premise, and should have been an engrossing read. but . . . sigh . . . the author kept adding more mysteries that needed solving, and more secrets that needed decoding, until the story became a bloated, convoluted mess. It might have made a difference had In an isolated country town afflicted by interminable drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, shooting dead five parishioners before being gunned down himself. This one had a knock-your-socks-off premise, and should have been an engrossing read. but . . . sigh . . . the author kept adding more mysteries that needed solving, and more secrets that needed decoding, until the story became a bloated, convoluted mess. It might have made a difference had writing been more eloquent, and less pedestrian, or if perhaps one single character had had a personality. I know a lot of people rated this book very highly, but I honestly couldn't wait for it to end.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    This much-praised Aussie debut certainly begins with a bang. It's an ordinary Sunday morning in the drought-stricken town of Riversend. Local priest Byron Swift is chatting with his parishioners outside before service begins. He goes back into the church, returns with a gun and shoots five men dead. One year later, journalist Martin Scarsden travels to Riversend so that he can write a piece on how the town is coping since the murders. Not very well it seems. The mood is downbeat and hopeless - s This much-praised Aussie debut certainly begins with a bang. It's an ordinary Sunday morning in the drought-stricken town of Riversend. Local priest Byron Swift is chatting with his parishioners outside before service begins. He goes back into the church, returns with a gun and shoots five men dead. One year later, journalist Martin Scarsden travels to Riversend so that he can write a piece on how the town is coping since the murders. Not very well it seems. The mood is downbeat and hopeless - some folk have their theories but nobody can fully understand why Swift acted the way he did. The priest was a popular presence, a charming and caring individual who always did his best for the community. But Martin has a knack for getting people to open up to him, and a tenacity to uncover the truth. If anybody can get to the bottom of this horrific event, it's him. For the majority of this tale, I was quite engrossed. The author poses an intriguing puzzle in the opening pages and I just had to read on to find out more about it. He invents some fascinating characters in this neglected rural outpost, like alluring bookshop owner Mandalay Blonde and the mischievous town drunk Harvey Snouch. He's also strong on atmosphere - the oppressive heat setting everybody on edge, as if they didn't have enough to be worrying about already. But about two thirds of the way in, I think the story loses its way. The narrative gets repetitive and goes around in circles, as if it's unsure on how to proceed. And in the end it's wrapped up a little too neatly for my liking, with some convenient explanations that are a little hard to swallow ((view spoiler)[Harvey Snouch turning out to be a master forger for example (hide spoiler)] ). Still I'm glad I read Scrublands - it's a compelling and intricate crime novel with well-drawn characters. Chris Hammer is off to a fine start.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amanda - Mrs B's Book Reviews

    *https://mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com Scrublands, penned by journalist Chris Hammer, proved to be another strong contender for my favourite crime thriller novel of the year. It is a testament to the array of rich Australian bush based crime novels that are cropping up. If you are a fan of Jane Harper, this one will fill the spot and more. Words cannot adequately express just how magnificent this crime novel proved to be. Scrublands is refined, strikingly realistic and completely compulsive. River *https://mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com Scrublands, penned by journalist Chris Hammer, proved to be another strong contender for my favourite crime thriller novel of the year. It is a testament to the array of rich Australian bush based crime novels that are cropping up. If you are a fan of Jane Harper, this one will fill the spot and more. Words cannot adequately express just how magnificent this crime novel proved to be. Scrublands is refined, strikingly realistic and completely compulsive. Riversend is the small town locale where all the action plays out in this addictive novel. We quickly learn that the town of Riversend has been strangled by the onset and prolonged presence of drought. And like a stab in the heart, the town lost five residents in an awful shooting, involving the enigmatic town priest. The case and the mystery surrounding why this giving priest would open fire on five townspeople is completely baffling. The priest also took his own life, soon after the shooting, tearing apart the tiny town of Riversend in an instant. Now one year later, the wound still cuts deep and it is up to investigative journalist Martin Scarsden to compose a piece on the Riversend tragedy. What Martin encounters when he begins to collect the evidence to compile his story is conflicting to say the least. As soon as Martin makes a dent in his story, another tragedy befalls the town of Riversend, followed by a shocking discovery. As Martin throws himself further into the case and attempts to join the dots with new developments, he comes under intense scrutiny. With the media and dangerous forces breathing down his neck, Martin’s story has far reaching implications. This one sure bowled me over right from the hooking premise and opening sequence. Scrublands will floor you, so be prepared to be dazzled by Chris Hammer early in the novel and through the whole book. I won’t shy away from admitting that I avoided reading this book. The density and size of the book first delivered a sense of trepidation, but I’m glad I saved Scrublands for an extended break away, where I had absolutely no distractions. Scrublands is the perfect getaway read. I submerged myself in this addictive novel over the course of two sittings and I couldn’t tear myself away from this fine fiction debut. Working as a journalist for over three decades has put Chris Hammer in good standing for the release of his fiction debut. Much of Hammer’s research on his prize winning non fiction book, was centred on the impact of drought on small town rural communities and it shows. Although Scrublands is work of fiction, there is so much truth to Hammer’s writing and his depiction of the events that take place in Riversend. This is a fastidious novel that works to build a complete picture of what is happening across many country towns, across all states and territories in Australia. In fact, Riversend is simply a euphemism for so many rural locales in Australia that are grappling with the impact of drought, a decline in services and a rise in crime. As a result, Scrublands comes across as an authentic tale, tapping into issues that strike at the heart of our rural townships. The central mystery, revealed in the opening pages of Scrublands, is incredibly vivid, raw and compelling. It sets the mood and the atmosphere for the rest of the story. It also pulled me into the novel and I have to say this grip did not relinquish until the final page. Hammer is a great plotter and he has mastered the art of the slow reveal. What I loved about Scrublands was not only the puzzling nature of the initial central mystery, but the offshoot effect. In Scrublands we are faced with potentially more than one crime source. It was much more than I ever bargained for! Hammer has clearly drawn from his own experiences as a journalist and slotted in fragments of himself in the central protagonist, Martin Scarsden. I liked Martin’s dogged nature from the get go, the relationships he quickly carves in Riversend and the connections he makes to the town itself. Through the character of Martin and his career, we receive a scathing insight into the media world, the cut throat operations, underhanded tactics and the sensationalized reporting that often occurs in cases such as the Riversend shooting. Along with Martin, Hammer’s secondary character set are extremely well crafted. I had a such a vivid image of Harley Snouch, Mandalay, Luke and many others, thanks in turn to the descriptive tone of Hammer’s pose. And it would be unforgivable if I didn’t consider Riversend itself as the most influential character of the novel. Riversend has such presence that it hard to get this tiny blip on the map out of your mind, long after the final page of Scrublands has been turned. I was more than happy to be enslaved by Scrublands, it is a novel that is defined by beautiful but complacent writing, striking tones and a first-rate crime mystery. There is a sense of imminence to Scrublands, particularly in its recognition of drought and the plight of small towns. This blockbuster novel has secured screenplay rights and smashed bestseller lists, I can see why, Scrublands is simply remarkable. *Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

    “It is, he knows full well, growing into a perfect summer story in the great tradition of Lindy Chamberlain and Schapelle Corby. A heady mixture of murder, religion and sex… a beautiful femme fatale to feed to the cameras, as well as perhaps the most crucial element of all: mystery. Why did Byron Swift open fire? Who did murder the pretty young backpackers? Were they raped and tortured, as alleged by the competition papers? All around Australia, at barbecues and bars, at cafes and canteens, at h “It is, he knows full well, growing into a perfect summer story in the great tradition of Lindy Chamberlain and Schapelle Corby. A heady mixture of murder, religion and sex… a beautiful femme fatale to feed to the cameras, as well as perhaps the most crucial element of all: mystery. Why did Byron Swift open fire? Who did murder the pretty young backpackers? Were they raped and tortured, as alleged by the competition papers? All around Australia, at barbecues and bars, at cafes and canteens, at hairdressers and in taxis, everyone and their dog will be advancing their own half-baked theories of what happened and who was responsible. Talkback radio will be having a field day, the internet will be spawning an equal measure of sick jokes and conspiracy theories.” Scrublands is the first novel by Australian journalist and award-winning author, Chris Hammer. It’s January so it’s hot in the NSW Riverina. Ex-foreign correspondent, Martin Scarsden has been sent to Riversend to do a story on how the town is coping in the aftermath of a shooting massacre. It will soon be a year since the local pastor, Byron Swift, shot down five members of the community. Allegations of paedophilia had been lodged against him but, as he was shot dead by the town’s constable, these were never explored further. Nor was Swift’s motive ever discovered. Martin wanders through what looks like a dying town, a town in the choke-hold of a crippling drought, trying to get a feel for his story. “He looks away to the horizon, shimmering and ill-defined under the harsh sunlight, the sun that should lift all shadows but instead blurs the edges of the world, renders the horizon debatable, so that it’s impossible to tell land from sky.” A year ago, Martin's colleague did little to endear himself to the townsfolk, so while most are not openly hostile, neither is he welcomed with open arms. Martin is grateful that the young constable who brought Swift down gives him such a candid interview, but he finds himself distracted from his original brief, and not only by the beautiful bookstore owner: he can’t help speculating on just what led to the shootings, and whatever anyone tells him only increases his confusion. And who can he really trust to be completely honest, anyway? Everyone seems to have their own agenda. Then two partially-decomposed bodies are found in a dam in the scrublands, and things get really interesting. Hammer easily conveys the dusty country town with its boarded-up shopfronts, its attendant desperation but also its quirky locals. He manages to include in his tale suicides, bushfires, a war criminal, some dangerous bikies, a kidnapping, a fatal car accident, a confession (or two), a $15,000 bail bond, quite a lot of poor journalism, a locked room, an ASIO operative and a conman. His protagonist is no saint: he’s impulsive, not as thorough as he should be, and perhaps somewhat tactless, but ultimately, his heart seems to be in the right place. Hammer expertly builds his story: each chapter adds another wrinkle to what at first looks to be a fairly simple tragedy, turning it into an ever more intriguing mystery. He gives the reader a few red herrings, and so many twists that neck injuries may result. Some excellent (if rather black) comic relief is provided by Martin’s initial encounter with Codger Harris, and later with the drunken visiting magistrate, and the map of Riversend is both necessary and welcome. Clever and topical, this is an excellent work of Australian crime fiction. This unbiased review from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Allen&Unwin.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pauline

    For the last three days I've been hooked on the novel Scrublands by Chris Hammer. Martin Scarsden a journalist from Sydney has been sent to Riversend a small town in the Australian outback. The town is very run down and is in the grip of a drought and a heatwave. One year earlier there had been a mass shooting outside the towns church and Martin is looking to write a story about how the town is moving on since the shooting. This is a book that kept me on the edge of my seat with the tension rising For the last three days I've been hooked on the novel Scrublands by Chris Hammer. Martin Scarsden a journalist from Sydney has been sent to Riversend a small town in the Australian outback. The town is very run down and is in the grip of a drought and a heatwave. One year earlier there had been a mass shooting outside the towns church and Martin is looking to write a story about how the town is moving on since the shooting. This is a book that kept me on the edge of my seat with the tension rising from chapter to chapter. It was fast paced and action packed and I did not want to put the book down. I will certainly be looking out for more work from this author. Thank you to NetGalley and Headline for my e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tara Rock

    Mr. Hammer just raised the bar on the mystery novel; he nailed it with Scrublands. One of the best I've had the pleasure of reading. I was absolutely enthralled with this story and could not stay away from it for long. Many other reviewers have provided excellent insight. I understand a sequel will be available first of the year. Highly recommended.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kerri

    I'm approaching this review very carefully, because this book has so many great twists and turns, that I don't want to spoil or even really allude to if I can help it. It was the setting that drew me to this -- that cover image so perfectly represents this image that have in my mind of some parts of Australia --- drought stricken, oppressive heat beating down on the few people that live in these small, isolated towns. Images of Wolf Creek (a film; If you haven't seen it, I recommend it with a ce I'm approaching this review very carefully, because this book has so many great twists and turns, that I don't want to spoil or even really allude to if I can help it. It was the setting that drew me to this -- that cover image so perfectly represents this image that have in my mind of some parts of Australia --- drought stricken, oppressive heat beating down on the few people that live in these small, isolated towns. Images of Wolf Creek (a film; If you haven't seen it, I recommend it with a certain amount of hesitation -- I found it grueling and still can't bring myself to watch the sequel) spring to mind, or a vaguely remembered news story about a couple that disappeared, who are most likely lost down one of the many abandoned mine shafts, by accident or murder, their families unlikely to ever know for sure. These desolate parts of Australia lend themselves well to the possibility of almost anything, and my hopes that this novel would utilize that well were absolutely met. We follow journalist Martin Scarsden, who has been sent to write a feature on the one year anniversary of the towns tragedy: A young priest killed five local people, and is then in turn killed by a local cop. It's just supposed to be about how the town is coping in the aftermath of this horrific event, but soon he learns that the previously reported version of events may not be the whole story. There are too many things that don't quite add up, and that ever present question, looming over everything: Why? Why did it happen? There are several stories happening at once, interlinked in surprising ways. Things that seem clear suddenly aren't, and obvious solutions are disproven time and again, or lead somewhere interesting but seemingly irrelevant to the main case. People that seemed reliable are revealed to be lying or omitting vital details. It's hard to know if anyone in the town is trustworthy. They are understandably suspicious of a journalist, here to rehash things once more, but there's more to it than that. They are protecting people, but the town seems divided as to who it is they are protecting. The more Martin learns, the more the mystery deepens. I found myself compulsively reading this whenever I had the chance, never really knowing where it was heading and loving every moment of it. I'm eagerly awaiting the next book!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mandy White

    I listened to this book on Audible and I just loved it. I felt like I was there in the small country town of Riverside. It would make a brilliant movie or TV series. I was totally absorbed in the book on my trips in the car to and from work. The characters are so realistic and all with their faults. This town might be small and remote but it was never dull! Looking forward to your next book Chris Hammer...a brilliant Aussie crime thriller!!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    I was lucky enough to receive this book as a signed copy after entering a giveaway comp. How lucky was I to get it. This, by anybodies standards, is a great read. Seldom have I read a book that captures the essence of outback Australia so perfectly. From the oppressive heat, the parched landscape, the road kills and not to forget the never say die attitude of outback Aussies. Reading Scrublands is like taking a canoe rid down a river. You just never know what to expect around the next bend. One mi I was lucky enough to receive this book as a signed copy after entering a giveaway comp. How lucky was I to get it. This, by anybodies standards, is a great read. Seldom have I read a book that captures the essence of outback Australia so perfectly. From the oppressive heat, the parched landscape, the road kills and not to forget the never say die attitude of outback Aussies. Reading Scrublands is like taking a canoe rid down a river. You just never know what to expect around the next bend. One minute it’s all piece and tranquillity and the next you’re fighting white water rapids. As for red herrings, there’s enough here to sink a fishing boat. But the journey is well worth it. For journalist Martin Scarsden this should be a run of the mill story about the first anniversary of a mass shooting that took place in the small outback town of Riversend. But Martin soon find out that there’s nothing run of the mill about Riversend. Soon enough the story becomes something much darker and a lot more convoluted. The killings and the drought have reduced Riversend to a shadow of the community it used to be. Martin starts making enquiries about how the town is fairing now one year after the shootings. But what Martin finds is a community that seem to be hiding behind a wall lies and half truths. Getting at the truth will cause a lot of pain for both Martin and locals alike. Is there any place the world that appreciates the joy of hearing rain falling on a tin roof more that Australia? I can’t recommend Scrubland highly enough. 5/5

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gloria Arthur

    ⭐️4 Stars⭐️ Scrublands is Chris Hammer’s debut novel and what a remarkable read it was. Set in the isolated country town of Riversend this is an atmospheric crime read. A charismatic, young priest has opened fire on his parishioners, shooting five dead and then being shot dead himself. One year later troubled journalist Martin Scarsden still suffering from PTSD as a war correspondent in GAZA is sent to the town to write an article on how the town is recovering twelve months on from the tragedy. The ⭐️4 Stars⭐️ Scrublands is Chris Hammer’s debut novel and what a remarkable read it was. Set in the isolated country town of Riversend this is an atmospheric crime read. A charismatic, young priest has opened fire on his parishioners, shooting five dead and then being shot dead himself. One year later troubled journalist Martin Scarsden still suffering from PTSD as a war correspondent in GAZA is sent to the town to write an article on how the town is recovering twelve months on from the tragedy. The once thriving local pub is closed, shops are boarded up and others only open two days a week, streets are deserted. Riversend is in endless drought and the heat is oppressive. When a bushfire goes through the scrublands just outside of town Martin gets involved and the badly decomposed bodies of two German backpackers almost skeletal are found in a farm dam. What Martin discovers is a town full of complex secrets and mystery. The well developed characters are realistic and we meet a quirky local named Codger Harris that gives some comic relief but some readers may find him offensive. For such a small town there is never a dull moment, Martin uncovers corruption and gets involved more than he should do. A dark, relentless and compulsive Aussie crime thriller.

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