29/07/2018 6:39:25 PM - Natasha
Thanks to Dymocks and the publishers Allen and Unwin for sending me an advanced copy to read and review.
Wow! What a treat this novel was. Set in the harsh drought-ridden countryside of the Riverina region of NSW, this novel focuses on a journalist visiting the town of Riversend in order to report on how the town is coping after the horrific events that had occurred there one year ago: that of a priest massacring his parishioners. However soon after, other events begin to occur that cast a whole new light on the town and its secrets.
I'm not quite sure what I was expecting when I read this novel, but what I do know is I wasn't expecting what actually happened. This book sucks you in from the beginning. For me, it was partly due to Hammer's way of describing each scene. I really felt like I was right there in the middle of it all. As a crime fan, one of the main things I love are clever twists and turns through the the story. This book definitely has that. As soon as you think you understand what's going on, Hammer delivers another plot twist that makes you question everything you thought you knew.
One of the major reasons I love this book so much is because it's not a conventional who-dunnit. Just from reading the blurb, you already know who the perpetrator is. This book looks at the why. And that for me was immensely intriguing. It's not very often I find a book that truly examines the motives behind the perpetrator's actions the way Hammer does in this book.
I absolutely HAD to know exactly where things were going and why, and who was hiding things and why etc. This book kept me wanting more right up until the very last page. Actually, it still does.
29/07/2018 9:07:19 PM - Andrew
A Five Star Read
Having read other reviews the biggest decision seems to be giving Scrublands either a 4 or 5 Star Rating.... for me its not a problem as this is easily a % Start book to read. Gripping and seductive story line enticing late nights to get the end as soon as possible. Having camped along the river the descriptions bring back vivid memories of hot summers, mossies and the parched landscapes. The characterisations of the main players are solid and the book has everything from murder, lust, drugs, bikies and a wonderful insight into the grind of media coverage and the associated decision making of what and how to depict the angle almost bordering on "fake news". Easy to read and great news that there will be a sequel... can't wait!
30/07/2018 12:32:20 PM - Michelle
Captivating to the End
Chris Hammer gently draws the reader in by describing the oppressive heat in Riversend - a town reminiscent of so many remote, outback Australian towns. He slowly introduces the reader to the various personalities in the town and then cleverly layers the complexities of their lives, and personas as the mystery unfolds. It is captivating and not predictable, making it a fabulous read to the very last page.
23/10/2018 1:05:34 PM - Jacinta
An excellent read and great for a summer getaway.
I was lucky enough to win this book and I'm so glad I did. What a ripper. I'm not usually a big reader of crime, mysteries or thrillers because I'm a total wimp. This book was definitely worth stepping out of my comfort zone for. I started reading it and had finished it within 72 hours!
Chris Hammer's writing is so detailed and nuanced that at every step I was interested, whether he was describing the scrublands or racing me through some action. He has a tight handle on the words, and despite the grim parts, I was almost sad to leave the characters and Riversend behind.
His insight into the journalistic world is self-evident and his decades in the field shine through, giving the book veracity and authenticity. I will definitely be reading a Martin Scarsden sequel if one arrives.
24/07/2018 8:14:27 PM - Marianne
Clever and topical, this is an excellent work of Australian crime fiction.
“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.
11/08/2018 12:10:53 AM - Emma
Smashing read. Character development kept me fully engaged until the last page
An absolutely fantastic read. The twists and turns of plot and the extraordinary character development kept me on the edge of my seat and fully immersed. I’ve read it multiple times since I received it, and each time was better than the last.
100% recommended for anyone 14+.
24/07/2018 11:37:59 AM - Chris
Very enjoyable book. Powered through it. Had a great mix of characters and tended to not veer into cliche. Mind you the amount of death the town endured did ask the reader to stretch the imagination but it added to the page turning and overall enjoyment. Great portrayal of a country town and mix of people. Just a few too many carking it.
13/07/2018 2:20:44 PM - Alison
Reminiscent of Jane Harper's "The Dry" this book takes you to the heart of a country town, already tortured by drought, that is further ripped apart by the inexplicable crime of the local priest. As a journalist arrives in town to cover the anniversary of the priest's crime his investigations uncover more secrets than answers. Compelling to the end.
13/07/2018 9:11:00 PM - Cheryl
A twist at every turn.
A dying town in the Riverina has a lot of secrets. I couldn't put this book down.
Right from the opening page, you just want to find out why!