Scrublands by Chris Hammer [review]

Scrublands

Title: Scrublands
Author: Chris Hammer
Publisher: Headline

[Synopsis]

In an isolated country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself.

A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.

Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal.

Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town’s secrets stay buried.

A compulsive thriller that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page.

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[My Review]

Scrublands is an atmospheric, intriguing thriller set in a small town called Riverside in the Australian countryside. I really enjoyed the build up of tension; some parts felt a little too slow for me at times but, at the other end of the spectrum, it also packed in a LOT of different elements and occurances into its pages.

The town in question has had so many tragedies and disasters to cope with, meaning the characters and general tone of the novel is one of general desperation and hostility. Journalist Martin soon finds this out when he arrives in town to report on how its residents are coping one year on from a particularly horrible crime, when a priest shot dead five people for no apparent reason.

Chris Hammer paints a stark, vivid portrait of this desolate and isolated town, and I loved some of the oddball characters that supported a stellar main cast including Martin, Byron, Mandy and many more. I could almost feel the incessant heat myself as I turned the pages, and the inclusion of an older and also a more recent ‘mystery’ means that Martin’s investigation into what really happened feels more urgent and dramatic.

Saying all that, at times this novel felt like it was moving a bit slowly for me, but I didn’t find that I lost interest as it soon pick up the pace again. I have to say that packing so many narrative threads into one novel meant it sometimes felt a bit unlikely that this level of activity and tragedy could take occur in such a small town. However Scrublands still packed a real punch and kept me turning the pages. It manages to be atmospheric and beautifully written, evoking a real sense of what it must feel like to live somewhere like Riverside, and I’m really impressed that this is a debut.

[Rating: 4/5]

Many thanks to Headline for providing a copy of this book on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.

Scrublands is available now in ebook format and will be released in hardback format on 8 January 2019.

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