Expected publication: out now
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 all the stars!
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.
I had a feeling that this book would be good, but I had no idea how good! It sucked me into its vortex like a crazy tornado wreaking mayhem and destruction and slammed me back to Earth – dazed and disorientated – a few hours later. It’s possible that I stayed up all night reading to find out the answers! Now comes the moment when I should admit that I initially bought this book for my husband for his birthday, but seeing he had not picked it up immediately to lose himself in an all-night read-a-thon (which drove me crazy), I thought that a day was a sufficient cooling-off period to ask to borrow it!
So here I am, raving about it, whilst he is eyeing it suspiciously as it has resumed its rightful place on his bedside table again. “It’s got everything you like!” I gush, “A middle aged, footloose and fancy-free protagonist! A beautiful young woman! Action, murder, bikies, sex, conspiracy theories! Some crazy wild men living in the bush! A deliciously claustrophobic setting in small-town Australia amidst a drought!” I may be raising my voice slightly as I am saying all this. “This book is BRILLIANT!” - “And”, I add, diving in for the final strike, “it was written by a male author!” (My husband has a strange aversion to reading books by female authors. Don’t ask ....)
Okay, so my husband may be a lost cause, but here you are, reading this review and thinking to yourself: “Hmmmm, this book doesn’t sound half-bad!” It’s BRILLIANT! (I may be repeating myself here). Scrublands is exactly the type of book I love reading, from its aforementioned claustrophobic setting that is so quintessentially Australian, to the compelling mystery at the heart of the story which includes quite a few historical and contemporary issues skilfully woven into the tale. I rounded the many twists and turns like an out-of-control rollercoaster, almost getting thrown at every corner but somehow surviving to tell the tale. To say that I had no idea how this one would play out is an understatement – don’t you love it when all the threads tie together in a Celtic-knot like formation that would confound even the most astute armchair detective? Why DID the priest open fire and kill five local men before killing himself? Well, you are in for a treat finding out.
Australian and overseas readers alike will appreciate the details Hammer includes in his tale that bring rural Australia to life. One of my favourite scenes was as Martin drives into a raging bushfire, only surviving by the skin of his teeth – the descriptions of this inferno were so vivid that I could feel the heat, smell the smoke, hear the creaking of the roof as the old homestead is on the brink of collapse. Then there are the characters – the loners living in cabins in the woods, the townfolk trying to eke out a living in a dying town, the families of the priest’s victims searching for answers. And even though Martin was a bit of a self-centred d**head at times, I found him to be an enigmatic and interesting character who drove the story along.
So let me sum it all up for you in a few words – this book was ... yeah, yeah, you guessed it ... pretty damn good. So whether you are in the mood for a good murder mystery, some armchair travel to rural Australia or just a good yarn, you can’t go wrong here. I certainly look forward to reading more from this author in future!