14 April 2020


A 2020 Top Rated Read

By Chris Hammer

Paperback 512 pages
Publisher Wildfire (11th July 2019)

Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2019

'Shimmers with heat from the sun and from the passions that drive a tortured tale of blood and loss.' Val McDermid

📕My Review

Journalist Martin Scarsden is sent to Riversend; a drought-ridden, dying town in the Australian outback. He's there to write an article on how the community has been coping in the year since their priest shot and killed five men before being shot dead himself. The accepted motive seems to be the priest's imminent exposure as a paedophile, but Martin has reason to believe this unlikely.

When the bodies of two German backpackers, missing since the shootings, are discovered in a dam in the scrublands, Martin finds himself caught up in the ensuing media frenzy. Is the new discovery connected to the earlier shootings? Martin's job and reputation are on the line as he delves deeper into the town's history, inhabitants and misfits.

Scrublands was a fantastic read. The barren landscape plagued by heat, drought and fires added to the intensity of the book, which I thought was intelligently written and engaging. The multifaceted plot was a page-turner with revelation after revelation. Although quite a slow-paced story, it didn't drag at all. It was an insightful glimpse into small town mentality and a community in decline. It's one of the best books I've read this year.

Book Source: Purchased copy
Rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

📗The Blurb

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.

A year later, accompanied by his own demons from war-time reporting, journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend. His assignment is deliberately simple: describe how the townspeople are coping as the anniversary of their tragedy approaches. But as Martin meets the locals and hears their version of events, he begins to realise that the accepted wisdom – that the priest was a paedophile whose imminent exposure was the catalyst for the shooting, established through an award-winning investigation by his own newspaper – may be wrong.

Just as Martin believes he’s making headway, a dramatic new development rocks the town. The bodies of two German backpackers - missing since the time of the church shootings - are discovered in a dam in the scrublands. It's the biggest story in Australia, the media arrive en masse. Instead of gently easing back into reporting, Martin finds himself thrown into a media storm, and with it a complex mystery.

What was the real reason behind the priest’s shooting spree? And how does it connect to the backpacker murders, if at all? Martin struggles to uncover the town’s dark secrets, putting his job, his mental state, and his life all at risk as events escalate around him.

📘The Author

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 Fairfax.

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 with his wife, Tomoko Akami.

No comments: