Scrublands – Chris Hammer

This is a terrific novel which packages a complex plot, finely observed characterization, decent dialog, and a well crafted (albeit stark) backdrop and produces as fine a novel as you are likely to read. It’s simply wonderful.

Set in the Australian outback, the background is that one year previously the priest in small town Riversend shot dead five of his congregation before one of the local policemen shot and killed the priest. As the novel opens, a somewhat bedraggled and PTSD suffering journalist, Martin Scarsden arrives in town to do a follow up feature. Scarsden’s work discloses something different from the previously reported version of what went down. From there on, matters accelerate out of control as Scarsden discovers his mission to get to the truth has ignited some serious opposition.

Scarsden has his own personal issues, but he also suffers from business challenges given that his employers are looking to cut costs and keep their media outlet operating. I get the impression Chris Hammer is campaigning a wee bit for the journalism profession, but in a way that does not detract from the authenticity of the portraits nor the entertainment value of the story. In other words, he does not overdo it – it’s simply another fine feature among many.

The author constructs such a clear sensation of the oppressive heat and the listlessness of the environment that you may find yourself drinking lots so as to keep cool! The realities of life in a small outback town, struggling with drought, unemployment, and the challenges of just getting through day-to-day life are sympathetically displayed. Similarly, the characters draw you in so that it doesn’t take much imagination to put you in their place.

It’s also noteworthy that despite the intricacies of the plot, the author never loses control. Each strand is distinct, logical, and well thought out. The coming together of all the loose ends is handled with aplomb. I found it a thoroughly immersive experience.

One of the best books I have read, ever. Yes, it’s that good.

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