Debut author Hammer vividly conveys the blistering January landscape setting of small Australian town Riversend, recovering from a bewildering mass shooting committed by the local priest. A year after the event, Sydney journalist Martin Scarsden, recovering from trauma sustained while covering events in the Middle East, is sent to write a piece documenting how the town’s faring. As Scarsden asks questions, the answers take him down unexpected paths, revealing many complex layers to the townspeople and their relationships. I found Scarsden to be an unlikable character, and thought perhaps the plot took one twist too many, but the overall writing quality of the book and author’s storytelling skills outweighed those hesitations.
In this searing, “indisputable page-turner” (Associated Press), a town’s dark secrets come to light in the aftermath of a young priest’s unthinkable last act—in the vein of The Dry and Where the Crawdads Sing.
In Riversend, an isolated Australian community afflicted by an endless drought, a young priest does the unthinkable: he kills five parishioners before being taken down himself.
A year later, journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend. His assignment: to report how the townspeople are coping as the anniversary of the tragedy approaches. But as Martin meets the locals and hears their version of events, he begins to realize that the accepted explanation—a theory established through an award-winning investigation by Martin’s own newspaper—may be wrong.
Just as Martin believes he’s making headway, a shocking new crime rocks the town. As the national media flocks to the scene, Martin finds himself thrown into a whole new mystery.
What was the real reason behind the priest’s shooting spree? And how does it connect to other deaths in the district, if at all? Martin struggles to uncover the town’s dark secrets, putting his job, his mental state, and his very life at risk.
For fans of James Lee Burke, Jane Harper, and Robert Crais, Scrublands is “a gritty debut...sensitively rendered” (The New York Times Book Review) that marks Chris Hammer as a stunning new voice in crime fiction.
About the Author
Christopher Hammer lives in Australia and was a journalist for over thirty years. As a foreign correspondent, he reported from more than thirty countries on six continents, as well as covering Australian national politics for television, newspapers, and magazines. Following the breakout success of his debut novel, Scrublands, he now writes fiction full time.
“[A] gritty debut....sensitively rendered.” — New York Times Book Review
"Shimmers with heat from the sun and from the passions that drive a tortured tale of blood and loss."
— Val McDermid
"Debut thriller of the month (and maybe of 2019)....Beautifully written." — The Washington Post
"[Chris Hammer] writes with a newspaperman's clarity of purpose, and muscular prose keeps the many weighty themes aloft. There are plenty of familiar noir tropes here, but they are well deployed; the web of intrigue at work in a complex town keeps the pages turning. For readers in America, where a low-fatality shooting can recede from the news cycle within a couple of days, the book is a timely reminder of how tragically we have been inured to the horrors of mass killing." — Time Magazine
“Stellar. . . .Richly descriptive writing coupled with deeply developed characters, relentless pacing, and a bombshell-laden plot make this whodunit virtually impossible to put down.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review
"An indisputable page-turner." — Associated Press
“A heatwave of a novel, scorching and powerful. This extraordinary debut, perfect for readers of the magnificent Jane Harper, seared my eyes and singed my heart. Don't miss it.” — A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW
"Chris Hammer's powerful debut Scrublands establishes his place among the handful of thriller writers who understand the importance of setting as character, deftly weaving the story of a landscape burned dry and a town whose residents are barely hanging on with a complicated mystery that could only happen in this place in exactly the way Hammer tells it. Fresh and hypnotic, complex and layered, Scrublands' gorgeous prose swept me up and carried me toward a conclusion that was both surprising and inevitable. I loved every word. Highly recommended." — Karen Dionne, international bestselling author of THE MARSH KING'S DAUGHTER
“Compelling…highly recommended.” — Dervla McTiernan, author of THE RUIN
“Scrublands kidnapped me for 48 hours. I was hopelessly lost in the scorching Australian landscape, disoriented but completely immersed in the town and people of Riversend, as the heat crackled off the pages. I was devastated when it was time to go back to the real world. This book is a force of nature. A must-read for all crime fiction fans.” — Sarah Bailey, author of THE DARK LAKE and INTO THE NIGHT
“An evocative and compelling page-turner, and a deft unravelling of small town secrets and the legacy of trauma, amid the suffocating heat of a drought-ravaged Australian scrub; I was hooked!” — Paul Howarth, author of ONLY KILLERS AND THIEVES
“As evocative and haunted as the American Southwest, Chris Hammer’s Australian-set Scrublands is desolate, dangerous, and combustible. A complex novel powered by a cast of characters with motives and loyalties as ever-shifting as the dry riverbed beneath them, Hammer’s story catches fire from the first page.” — J. Todd Scott, author of THE FAR EMPTY and HIGH WHITE SUN
“A compulsively page-turning thriller where the parched interior looms as large as the characters.” — The Guardian
“Scrublands is the epic novel about rural life …that we need right now. In its concern with crime beyond the suburban fringe, it sits right up there with the late Peter Temple's Broken Shore, Garry Disher's Bitterwash Road and Jane Harper's The Dry, even as it extends their focus and reach.” — Sydney Morning Herald
"A novel's opening moments are there to rivet readers' attention; this one begins with a dazzler. . . we're hooked." — Booklist
“Hammer's intricately plotted, atmospheric debut introduces the bleak Australian scrublands, an area haunted by its past. Fans of Jane Harper's Australian crime novels will welcome another author with a rich descriptive style.” — Library Journal, starred review
"A spellbinding mystery . . . . a great addition to any book club this winter." — Women.com
"With vivid prose, a smothering sense of atmosphere and an at-times heart-wrenching story, Scrublands is a sizzling hot read for a cold winter night." — BookPage
"Razor sharp....the intricate plotting, turns of phrase and sharply drawn characters make Hammer’s debut work of fiction worth reading." — BookReporter