Scrublands by Chris Hammer
Generally I don’t read a lot of crime fiction but I am fascinated and obsessed with Australia, especially the toughness of both the people and the landscape of the Outback. You’d have to be tough to live there. So, when I was offered an advance copy of Scrublands there was no question I’d want to read it.
Riversend is dying. A prolonged drought as left the place decimated. There is so little left of Riversend that what businesses are still there are open for just a couple of days a week for just a couple of hours a day. There are so few people left in town to serve. But there are a few and one Sunday the priest stands on the steps of the church and in full view of everyone guns down five of the town’s men and then makes sure he, too, is killed. In any town this would be catastrophic but in a compact, dying town it’s even worse than that. No spoiler alert here, this is on page two.
A year later Martin Scarsden arrives in town. A journalist, he is sent to ‘get a feel’ for how the town has healed, or not, in the year since the killings.
This is where the story really starts to travel. Just when you think it’s going down one road and you’ll be along for the ride, that it’s quite obvious a place like Riversend does not recover from something like what happened, it dives deeper. Martin finds people explain the priests death through the rumors that surfaced he had abused some of the boys in town. Some believe and some don’t. But a reporter can’t let something like this alone and as he gets to know people and little snippets of stories don’t make sense, Martin probes further and the story begins to web out in ways you just have to trust.
In the midst of all of this, the bodies of two German backpackers are discovered in the scrubland beyond town and Martin is working against time, his newspaper, rumors and the truth. Layer upon layer, the story goes even deeper into the community, the people, the landscape is even a ‘character.’
After reading the beginning I seriously questioned why the book was so long. What was there to discover? Silly me. Upon finishing this I closed the book and thought, “Phew! What a ride!”