Review: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Title: Scrublands

Author: Chris Hammer

Published: July 25th 2018, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read January 2019


My Thoughts:

““Martin, there’s a better story, you know. Better than wallowing in the pain of a town in mourning.’
‘And what’s that?’
Why he did it.””


Journalist Martin Scarsden has been sent to the rural community of Riversend to report on how it is faring a year on from the day the town’s priest stood on the church steps and shot dead five men.

No one is quite sure why he did it, though speculation suggested Byron Swift, the charismatic priest, was about to be outed as a paedophile and murdered the men to silence his accusers. Local bookstore owner and single mother, Mandalay Blonde, is adamant there is another explanation, and urges Martin to investigate.

Martin, still reeling from a recent brush with death in the Middle East while on assignment, would rather just do his job and get out, but as he gathers material for his story, instinct tells him that Mandy is right.

Scrublands is a thrilling crime novel from Chris Hammer, a journalist of thirty years experience. A gripping mystery, with appealing characters and an atmospheric setting, you are sure to find yourself engrossed from the first page.

“Time to find something else to do between here and oblivion.”

Martin Scarsden is a well-crafted and interesting protagonist. After a harrowing experience in the Middle East, he isn’t sure he has the stomach for investigative journalism anymore, yet he can’t ignore the inconsistencies he uncovers. In part Martin is able to find answers simply by being in the right place at the right time, and earning the trust of a few select locals, including town Constable Robbie Haus-Jones. Perhaps unwisely, he becomes intimately involved with Mandalay, adding another layer of complication to his investigation, but it’s clear that the connections Martin makes with the townspeople encourages him to seek the truth, revealing a man, who despite his flaws, has integrity and heart.

“‘Every time I think we’re getting somewhere, it slips through our fingers. You get that feeling?’”

The mystery at the heart of Scrublands is complex and compelling. What possible reason could a priest have for murdering five people in cold blood? Everybody has secrets, and as Martin digs for the truth they begin to unravel, exposing Byron Swift’s motive, a string of deceits, and a stunning conspiracy. Hammer handles the multiple threads well, though at times the story can feel a little crowded.

“The heat is worse. Yesterday’s wind has turned hot and ugly, gusting in from the north-west, propelling fine particles of dust and carrying the threat of fire. The very country Martin is driving through looks sick: anaemic trees, spindly shrubs and, between them, more dirt than grass. He’s driven from the black soil of the flood plain into the Scrublands, a huge peninsula of mulga scrub where there is no soil, just the red granular earth, like an oversized ants’ nest.“

Hammer evokes the town, it’s people, and the landscape with beautifully descriptive phrasing. It is the height of summer, Riversend, as a victim of the seemingly endless drought, is a dying town surrounded by a dying landscape. With a population of only a few hundred, those that remain are barely able to hold body and soul together.

I raced through Scrublands in one sitting, captivated by Chris Hammer’s vividly rendered tale of duplicity, betrayal, and murder. An impressive crime novel, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.


Available to Purchase via

Allen & Unwin I Booko I Booktopia I Amazon AU

Book Depository I Amazon US I Amazon UK

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mystica
    Apr 25, 2019 @ 21:32:16

    This sounds good.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. asreadbytina
    Apr 26, 2019 @ 04:26:54

    This sounds so good! I’m definitely going to see if my library has it.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Tanya Atkinson
    Apr 26, 2019 @ 05:12:07

    This sounds like such a solid mystery. I’m already intrigued about the priest’s actions and what made him do it. And Martin seems like an interesting character who’s dealing with a lot on his own. Glad you enjoyed this one!

    Liked by 1 person


  4. Col
    Apr 26, 2019 @ 16:49:25

    Bought this as audiobook last week on strength of someone else’s review so delighted to read similar positive praise. So looking forward to it twice as much now!

    Liked by 1 person


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