In 2017, Jane Harper’s fine first novel, The Dry, focused attention on Australia’s drought-ravaged small towns. The Australian journalist Chris Hammer now uses a similar setting for his debut, a stunning novel set in a town struggling to survive after another inexplicable tragedy. Scrublands has a journalist arriving in Riversend to write an article on the first anniversary of a mass shooting carried out by the local priest...When Scarsden uncovers a long-ago rape and the unsolved disappearance of two backpackers, the novel turns into an epic account of the psychological damage accumulated over many years in a dying agricultural town. Scrublands is that rare combination, a page-turner that stays long in the memory.
This sharply observed slice of outback noir makes good use of its closed-world setting: a sun-baked, drought-ravaged town whose remaining inhabitants live with the ever-present threat of an all-consuming bushfire... The clunkier elements – Scarsden’s emotional baggage, and his on-off romance with a much younger woman – are more than compensated for by well-rounded characters, masterful plotting and real breadth; this is an epic and immersive read.
While there is never any doubt about whether a superhero like Reacher can prevail, there is a real question over Martin’s powers, and the blockades put in his way by the bad guys – and by his own employers – are convincing enough to allow Hammer to create tension as well as genuine feeling. This is his first crime novel and I look forward to its sequels.