“Scrublands” by Chris Hammer. A crime novel set in small town Australia

I recently read and reviewed three crime novels all of which were set in droughts or heatwaves. You can read that post here. One of those novels was Jane Harper’s The Dry which was set in Australia. It has a lot in common with Scrublands by Chris Hammer mostly because of the location and the weather but also because of the great writing. If you like one I am pretty sure that you will like the other.

The small, Australian town in Scrublands is still recovering from a terrible event nearly one year ago when the very popular priest shot dead several local men and then himself. There appeared to be no reason for the crime and it made the town the centre of attention of the national media.

As the anniversary approaches a national journalist is sent in to write a follow up story. Martin has been damaged by something that happened on a previous assignment and he wants to show that he is not “washed up” as a reporter. What he finds, however, is that the whole story may not have been told and that many of the townsfolk are keeping secrets. As he starts to unravel things two more bodies are found and then he is accused of unprofessional conduct and becomes exceedingly unpopular. Is his life in danger ? What happened a year ago ? Was the priest really who he said he was ? Who else has secrets still untold ? Who wants to stop him investigating ?

I found this book absolutely gripping. It is impossible to work out exactly what is going on for most of the book but the author does bring is all together very satisfactorily by the end. Martin is a damaged man who has spent his life in a ruthless occupation. He looks for the story in everything and publishes whatever he finds. He needs to come to terms with what has happened to him but also to understand what damage both too much exposure and too many secrets can cause.

The claustrophobic atmosphere in the town and the surrounding area is well depicted and the extreme heat causes its own problems. Lots of townsfolk are trying to maintain their lives but some benefit from the additional national focus on the town and some suffer from it.

This is a clever and very well written book which grips from the start to the end. I understand that the author has written more books about his main characters and I shall certainly seek them out. Highly recommended.

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