In Chris Hammer’s compulsively readable and deeply satisfying fourth novel, Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic is dispatched to the outback town of Finnigan’s Gap to investigate the death of an opal miner found underground, crucified and left to rot.
Fans of the Martin Scarsden trilogy will feel right at home with “Treasure & Dirt,” and newcomers will see right away what the fuss has been about. All of Hammer’s considerable strengths are on display: his keen eye for detail, assiduous plotting, vividly-etched characters, and the ability to evocatively render imagined townships, and fill them with local colour.
Hammer acknowledges Finnigan’s Gap is loosely based on Lightning Ridge in north-western New South Wales — but he supplements his version with inauspicious locations, including Deadmans Well, and the church of the religious sect, The Rapture; ominously constructed of corrugated iron. These various components form a vibrant tapestry. Finnigan’s Gap lives and breathes in these pages, just like Port Silver and Riversend.
The “Scrublands” author tackles corruption in many forms as he brings his ornate plot to a pulse-pounding conclusion, leaving readers to ponder moral questions long after the last page is turned. Lucic — junior to Detective Morris Montifore, a regular cast member in Hammer’s previous books — is joined by Detective Constable Narelle ‘Nell’ Buchanan in separating the seemingly impossibly knotted strands of their investigation, and knitting them back together again to identify various malefactors.
Hampered by obstructive departmental leadership, a visit from a notorious Professional Standards Command detective, and manoeuvrings beyond their control, Lucic and Buchanan doggedly work the case, their professional ambitions clashing with their innate moral codes. There is right, and there is wrong; there is justice, and the law.
“Treasure & Dirt” shows why Chris Hammer stands at the forefront of Australian crime authors. He knows the best crime fiction is as much about character as it is about solving crimes.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: September 2021
Page Extent: 512