Say what you will about 2020, but it’s been packed with some phenomenal crime fiction and thrillers, and it was so difficult culling my list of favourites to a measly ten. In any other year, Peter Swanson’s “Rules For Perfect Murder” would feature; so too the new Rankin (“A Song for the Dark Times”), at least one of Connelly’s (“The Law of Innocence” and “Fair Warning”), and Silva’s “The Order.” But when I sat back and reflected on my year of reading, these were the ones that resonated.Continue reading
In “Trust” Chris Hammer creates a microcosm of secrets, scandal, and skulduggery enmeshed in the threat of constant violence. In his hands, Sydney becomes a city of shadows; a place where menace lies around every corner, and dark intentions brew within every building. A malevolent cabal has spread long tendrils of corruption through every facet of the New South Wales government — and veteran newspaperman Martin Scarsden is determined to expose it.
“Trust” is so tightly wound up, it’s like a rubber band ready to snap; already stretched to breaking point after its opening dozen pages, by which time Tarquin Molloy has stolen confidential data from the trading floor of a bank, and Mandalay Blonde — Scarsden’s partner, but deserving of equal billing here, such is her importance and prevalence — abducted from her home in Port Silver. These events are tied to a subversive criminal enterprise that exists at the highest echelons of New South Wales politics.
This is Hammer writing pedal-to-the-metal, with a hook as enticing as “Scrublands,” enhanced by superior writing and plotting. Rather than rest on his laurels, Hammer has pushed himself beyond his previous mysteries, which were already A-Grade. In “Trust” he has crafted a byzantine plot with so many threads that never tangle. There’s a pulse-pounding shootout, a horrific torture scene (that stops short of being grossly visceral), and countless revelations and twists. Hammer orchestrates it all with virtuosic aplomb.
Number Of Pages: 480
Available: 13th October 2020
A fine-tuned mystery wrapped in an involving story of community and family dynamics that is satisfying on every level.
Forgoing the evocative opening imagery of Scrublands, and the scorching momentum it sparked, when a young priest calmly turned his rifle on his congregation, Chris Hammer eases into his second novel to star Martin Scarsden, with the veteran journalist driving into Port Silver — a hotspot of regional gentrification, and the home Martin waved good riddance to decades earlier — with two young hitchhikers he picked up along the way nestled in his backseat. Their cheerful spirits alleviate the tension he feels returning to a place laden with traumatic childhood memories.
Martin has emerged from the fallout of events in Scrublands with a new partner, Mandy Blonde, and her young son, Liam. Mandy has inherited an old house in the seaside town, and this is their chance to start afresh; Riversend, its history of violence, now a distant speck behind. But when Martin arrives at Mandy’s temporary homestead, he finds his best friend from school days brutally murdered, and Mandy leaning over him — the obvious suspect. Certain of her innocence, and exasperated by the police investigators who can’t seem to look beyond her, Martin launches his own investigation into the murder, prying open memories from the past, forcing confrontations with those he thought he’d vanquished long ago. Then another horrific event occurs, on an even grander scale — Australia’s own rendition of the Jonestown massacre — and Martin realises the heart of Port Silver is black as pitch.
Silver is a slower burn than Scrublands, but it feels deliberate, its plot set to simmer as Hammer establishes the geography of Port Silver, as well as its major and minor players, and dips into Martin’s childhood memories, and his struggle to marry the two sides of himself: the battle-hardened, world-weary reporter who makes a living exposing and transcribing the very worst of humanity, and the man who wants to start a family. The context is important, because when Hammer lights the fuse, and the plot kicks into higher gear, the stakes feel more extreme, and definitely more personal; the reader is invested in the vast cast that populates Port Silver. And the final two-hundred pages truly gallop, destined to be inhaled in one white-knuckled sitting.
With Silver, Chris Hammer proves himself once again to be a skilful practitioner of the crime genre, and in Martin Scarsden has created one of its most textured and fascinating protagonists.
Number Of Pages: 576
Available: 1st October 2019
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Country of Publication: AU
Enjoy my definitive — wholly subjective — list of the 10 books published in 2018 that I enjoyed most.
A brilliantly propulsive Australian crime thriller by Chris Hammer; a standout second novel by Irish sensation Sally Rooney; a mile-a-minute, long-time-coming page-turner by Henry Porter; a quietly powerful, wise and humane novel by Anne Tyler; and an empathetic but never sentimental debut by Naima Coster that dares to probe the dynamics of a fractured family: these are my picks for the books that have already made 2018 a stellar year for reading.
With Scrublands, Chris Hammer has fashioned a meticulously written and propulsive crime novel, notable for its palpable sense of place, a slate of fully-drawn characters, and a meaningful denouement.
The last crime novel that actually earned the Thriller of the Year / Book of the Year banner emblazoned on its advanced reading copy cover was Jane Harper’s The Dry. Booksellers are inherently cynical about such statements, because nowadays just about every book that comes our way says the same thing. And of course, thanks to the success of The Dry, now every Australian crime novel is written “in its vein.” But there were rumblings about Chris Hammer’s book before reading copies began circulating. Industry buzz was — well, buzzing — and intensified until, finally, the book arrived in my hands.
On a flight from Hobart to Sydney, I opened to its prologue and began reading. Those two hours in the sky disintegrated. I was annoyed when the seat belt sign flashed; one of those rare times I would’ve welcomed the pilot’s voice crackling over the intercom, apologising that we’d have to circle the airport for an hour or two. Alas, no; I alighted the plane, Scrublands grasped tightly in my hands, not in my bag. I snatched moments to read during the walk to baggage claim; lost myself in its relentless grip as I waited for the train; and once I was home, I didn’t put the book down until I’d witnessed how Hammer tied all his wonderfully woven threads together. Which he does, with aplomb, that belies his status as a debutant.
So, does Scrublands earn its Thriller of the Year tag? Absolutely. Is it my favourite book of the year so far? Well, it’s only June, but since you’re asking the question: at this very moment, yes it is.
Suspenseful from start to finish, with plenty of regional colour informing its narrative, Scrublands combines sophisticated layers of mystery with an intensely scarred hero, reporter Martin Scarsden, on a quest to uncover the truth behind the events that lead to a young country town priest calmly opening fire on his congregation, which will ultimately have a profound effect on the veteran newsman. Readers who despair after a hundred pages that all the plot lines Hammer has launched can’t possibly fit together needn’t worry; they do indeed fit, and the monstrous connections that emerges between the inhabitants of the small Riverina town of Riversend are truly devastating. As he vividly portrays the harshness and beauty of the Australian landscape, Hammer keeps the twists coming and provides column-inches of background expertise on the hard business of hard news, and the psychological impact of bearing witness to, and transcribing, innumerable tragedies.
Deliberately paced and wound tight, this book will keep you awake until you’ve finished the final page. And maybe even after that. It’s relentless, it’s compulsive, it’s a book you simply can’t put down. We’re in a Golden Age of Australian crime fiction, and with Scrublands, Chris Hammer has joined the elite, up there with Jane Harper, Candice Fox, Emma Viskic, Sarah Bailey, Mark Brandi, and the grand master himself, Peter Temple.
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publish Date: 25-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: Australia