Review: Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher


Title: Under the Cold Bright Lights

Author: Garry Disher

Published: July 2nd 2019, Soho Crime

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Soho Crime/Edelweiss


My Thoughts:

Under the Bright Cold Lights is a stand-alone novel from Australian author Garry Disher, who is best known for his three crime fiction series’, Inspector Challis; Wyatt; and Paul Hirschhausen.

Five years after retirement, Acting Sergeant Alan Auhl has returned to the Victorian police force to work in the Cold Case and Missing Person Unit, where his experience, which includes a decade in homicide, fails to impress his younger colleagues who refer to him as ‘Retread’.

The latest case to cross Aulh’s desk concerns the discovery of a skeleton underneath a concrete pad on a rural property. The bones are that of a young man, who was shot in the chest, and buried under the concrete around five years previously. As Aulh, teamed with Detective Constable Claire Pascal, works to identify the ‘The Slab Man’ and whomever is responsible for his murder, he continues to reinvestigate the death of John Elphick at the behest of his daughters who believe he was murdered, is drawn into developments regarding a case he handled during his time in homicide, all while supporting a tenant/friend who is engaged in a contentious custody battle with her abusive husband.

Under the Cold Bright Lights is largely a police procedural, providing some insight into the way in which the police investigate cold cases. Auhl and his colleagues follow the slimmest of leads- a numberplate scrawled in a notebook, old rental agreements, and hotline tips, among others. There isn’t a lot of action in the novel, but the investigations are interesting, and cover a fair bit of ground.

I liked Auhl, who is an old-school type of cop, willing to put in the work to solve his cases. He isn’t bothered by the ribbing he receives from his younger colleagues, and he isn’t interested in office politics. It’s clear Alan has a big heart, evidenced by the ‘waif and strays’ he takes in at ‘Chateau Auhl’. It’s also evident early on that he is somewhat disillusioned with the justice system, and is prepared to exact his own when the system fails.

The writing is understated yet engaging, and I enjoyed Disher’s dry wit. I thought the story was well paced, and found it to be an easy read. The settings are evocative of the city, suburbs, and regional areas of Victoria, as are the minor characters.

Under the Cold Bright Lights is a well-crafted, absorbing mystery with strong characterisation, and a distinct Australian setting.


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Australian/UK Cover


Review: Boxed by Richard Anderson


Title: Boxed

Author: Robert Anderson

Published: May 7th 2019, Scribe Publications

Status: Read June 2019


My Thoughts:

“I check the name and address: Dave Martin, Five Trees. It is mine. It has been sent to me. This makes no sense.”

Dave Martin is baffled when he finds a box, addressed to him, stuffed with hundred dollar bills by his farm’s mailbox. Even more so when first, nearby property owners Elaine Slade, an attractive widow, and then “self-serving, hard as nails” Ben Ruder drop by, looking for a misdelivered parcel they claim is theirs. Turning the box over would be the right thing to do, but In the wake of a soul crushing tragedy, and a lot of booze, Dave isn’t thinking clearly. The mystery deepens as more boxes with odd contents arrive, yet even as Elaine is assaulted, his own home is ransacked by thugs, and the police start asking questions, and Dave finds himself well out of his depth, he is determined to find answers.

“All my life I have been anchored here. I have known where I fitted. Wherever I went, people who didn’t know me could always place me: because of where I lived, because I was someone’s son, grandson, friend, then husband, and then father. Now it is all gone, and I am untethered, unplaceable. If I met myself in the supermarket, I wouldn’t know who I was. I never imagined I could be so totally isolated. The farm is the only thing that defines me.”

In Dave, Anderson has skilfully crafted an unlikely hero. A farmer in rural Australia, who is weighed down by grief after experiencing a series of personal losses, Dave feels hopeless, seeking nightly oblivion in a bottle, neglecting the farm, and rebuffing the efforts of friends who reach out with offers of support. The mystery of the box full of cash pierces his shroud of self-pity, and, with nothing much to lose, Dave welcomes the subsequent drama, despite the dangers.

“I had been lying to myself about taking the box back to the mailbox. I want to see this to the end. I want to solve the mystery. I want the money — all of it.”

Boxed unfolds at a measured pace, driven by Dave’s artless, if well-intentioned, efforts. Elaine is evasive, Ben is vaguely menacing, stalking the mailman proves unhelpful, and the thug’s taking regular potshots at him aren’t interested in talking. As Dave tries to determine who is the rightful owner of the boxes he has hidden in his laundry, the situations in which he finds himself escalate into an almost farcical escapade. The plot is well constructed with red herrings, surprise twists and a dramatic climax.

“If I knew then … maybe none of this would have happened. When those boxes… arrived, I would have taken them straight to the police. There’d be no story to tell. No one would have been shot at, threatened, bashed, knocked out, or hurt…”

An engaging character driven mystery, with a sardonic wit that enlivens the plot, and a compelling sense of place, and community, I really enjoyed Boxed. I hope to read more by Robert Anderson soon.


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Review: Big Sky {Jackson Brodie #5} by Kate Atkinson


Title: Big Sky {Jackson Brodie #5}

Author: Kate Atkinson

Published: June 18th 2019, Doubleday

Status: Read June 2019, courtesy Penguin AU


My Thoughts:

Big Sky is Kate Atkinson’s fifth book featuring ex soldier, ex policeman, turned private investigator, Jackson Brodie, and though it follows Case Studies, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News?, and Started Early, Took My Dog, Big Sky can be read as a stand-alone.

Having temporarily relocated to a seaside village in Yorkshire to spend time with his teenage son, Brodie’s current investigations, involving background checks, employment theft, cheating spouses and missing pets, don’t pose much of a challenge. When he is hired by a trophy wife who believes she is being followed, he expects the answer will be simple, but instead Brodie stumbles into a tangled web of exploitation, greed, and death.

Big Sky unfolds through multiple perspectives. The cast is large, though I wouldn’t say unwieldy, but it does take a surprising amount of time before the connections between the characters become apparent. Persevere, it’s well worth the reward.

Brodie’s role through most of the actual mystery is surprisingly low key, though he inadvertently becomes enmeshed on several fronts – through a missing teenager, his client – Crystal Holroyd, a suicidal Vincent Ives, an occasional employer, Stephen Mellors, and an old friend, DC Reggie Chase.

“Finding Jackson Brodie at the heart of this melee seemed par for the course somehow. He was a friend to anarchy.”

The ‘melee’, which takes time to coalesce, refers to a human trafficking and sex slavery ring that has been operating with impunity for decades and such a ‘business’ necessarily involves other crimes, notably money laundering, drugs, and violence. Atkinson skilfully weaves the threads together that unravel not only the cabal, but also a historic case involving a pedophile ring.

I admire Atkinson’s style of writing which is so well grounded and flows with such ease. I enjoyed the dry, sardonic humour (particularly those witty inner thoughts shared in parentheses) which contributes to the humanity that Atkinson infuses in her characters thoughts and behaviour.

A smart, entertaining, and absorbing novel, Big Sky is a terrific read, sure to satisfy fans who have been waiting eight years for this latest instalment, and hook new readers.


Available from Penguin AU

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Also by Kate Atkinson reviewed on Book’d Out

Review: Hunting Evil {Robert Hunter #10} by Chris Carter


Title: Hunting Evil {Robert Hunter #10}

Author: Chris Carter

Published: June 2nd 2019, Simon & Schuster UK

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Simon & Schuster AU


My Thoughts:

In Chris Carter’s tenth instalment of his series featuring Robert Hunter, the head of LAPD’s Ultra Violent Crimes Unit, is once again pitted against his psychopathic nemesis, Lucien Folter. In An Evil Mind (Robert Hunter #6) Robert Hunter found himself in a battle of wits with his former college roommate, and the nation’s most prolific serial killer. Now, in Hunting Evil, after having spent three and a half years locked in solitary confinement, Lucien has escaped, and the only thing on his mind is vengeance.

Hunting Evil is action packed as Lucien initiates the most sadistic of games with Hunter in a bid to destroy him. With an intelligence that rivals Hunters’s, an ability to disguise every facet of himself, and having had years to plan, Lucien seemingly has the upper hand.

Sharp short chapters contribute to the quick pacing as Carter switches between the perspectives of Robert and Lucien. Hunter is struggling with this cat and mouse game, and Carter shows his increasing feelings of frustration and guilt. Lucien’s mind is an uncomfortable place to be in, a psychopath whose goal is to commit and document every variation of murder his inhumanity is chillingly portrayed by Carter.

Hunting Evil is a gripping psychological thriller, and though I thought there were some small flaws in the story, (for example, Hunter failing to provide protection to his love interest despite her obviously being at risk), I enjoyed it, much as I have others in the Robert Hunter series.


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Review: Hush Hush {Harriet Blue #4} by Candice Fox and James Patterson


Title: Hush Hush {Harriet Blue #4}

Author: Candice Fox and James Patterson

Published: May 7th 2019, Century

Status: Read May 2019 courtesy Penguin



My Thoughts:

The release of Hush Hush gave me the perfect excuse to get acquainted with Detective Harriet Blue. I raced through Never Never, Fifty Fifty and Liar Liar over a day or two and was all caught up. This is a series which requires you to read the books in order.

Hush Hush picks up a few weeks after the events of Liar Liar. Making good on his promise, Deputy Police Commissioner Joe Woods has had Harriet charged with a litany of crimes, including the murder of serial killer Regan Banks. Denied bail and imprisoned, Harriet is targeted daily by inmates and guards alike, only the prison doctor shows her any kindness.

When Woods demands a private interview, Harry is braced for more threats and violence, but instead the Deputy Commissioner offers Harriet a deal. He will have Harriet released, and the charges against her dropped, if she can find his missing daughter and granddaughter, alive.

Harriet’s first instinct is to refuse, she has no desire to do Woods any favours, but when the prison doctor is stabbed to death shortly after their conversation, Harry agrees, determined to not only find Tonya Woods, and two year old Rebel, but also whomever is responsible for the murder of Doctor Goldman.

Reunited with Chief ‘Pops’ Morris, who is on leave after his heart attack, Detective ‘Tox’ Barnes and Detective Edward ‘Whitt’ Whittaker, both of whom are on suspension for their role in the takedown of Banks, Harry and her fellow outsiders begin to chase down leads.

As with the previous instalments of this series the pace is breakneck, perhaps more so here with two quite different cases under investigation. The team must divide to conquer, and short chapters follow their activities as they variously confront uncooperative suspects, hired thugs, angry bikies and hostile ex colleagues. Both cases require hard work, and with limited legal resources available, the team, particularly Tox, have to get quite creative. Honestly, Hush Hush, as with Never Never, Fifty Fifty and Liar Liar, requires some suspension of belief, but you’ll enjoy the experience more if you don’t overthink things.

Fox’s influence on the creation of Harriet Blue is obvious, the character shares many traits with Eden, the main character of the author’s Archer and Bennett series. Harriet though is impulsive and reckless, emotion often overriding rational thought. To be fair, Harry has been under enormous stress for the last few months, she’s been targeted by two different serial killers, lost her brother, been shot, been declared a rogue officer, and unjustly imprisoned. In Hush Hush, unless she can find Tonya and Rebel she will spend at least a decade in prison, if she can survive that long, yet she also insists on hunting for the Doctors killer, even though her priority should be appeasing Woods.

Despite the frantic pace of Hush Hush there are some unexpected developments for Tox. His past transgressions, hinted at in previous instalments, are finally revealed as he forms a relationship with a doctor who treated him for the injuries he sustained in Fifty Fifty. Whitt, still fighting to remain sober, also has an admission to make, and is unsure about how it will be received.

Hush Hush feels like it could be the end of the Harriet Blue series, though there is potential for it to continue, and I hope it will. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the characters, and I find the plots entertaining.

Regardless, it seems the partnership between James Patterson and Candice Fox is far from over with an excerpt for a new stand alone book, named The Inn, by the duo at the end of the book.

Read an Excerpt


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The Harriet Blue Series

Review: Beloved Poison {Jem Flockhart #1} by E.S. Thomson


Title: Beloved Poison {Jem Flockhart #1}

Author: E.S. Thomson

Published: March 2016, Hachette

Status: Read April 2016 – courtesy Hachette/Netgalley



My Thoughts:

‘This is a most peculiar place,’ he said. ‘And the people in it are driven by the most extraordinary motives to do the most deplorable things.’

Beloved Poison is an atmospheric historical mystery, the first in a series from debut author, E.S. Thomson.

Standing since 1135, the crowded, dilapidated buildings of St. Saviours Infirmary are slated to be demolished to make way for a railway bridge. St. Saviours is the only home apothecary Jem Flockhart has ever known, but even she is not privy to all its secrets.

While showing William Quartermain, the junior architect tasked with organising the emptying of St. Saviours graveyard, around, Jem and Will discover six tiny paper coffins hidden in the crumbling walls of the chapel. Puzzled by the symbolism of their contents, she is determined to learn their origins, unwittingly unleashing the base instincts of a murderer.

“Oh, yes, I was unique among women. There had been an apothecary named Flockhart at St Saviour’s Infirmary for over one hundred years and I was set to inherit my father’s kingdom amongst the potions. But it took a man to run that apothecary, and so a man I must be.”

Thomson’s portrayal of Jem is nuanced and fascinating. In order to sustain the Flockhart legacy, Jem has no choice but to live as a man, but being forced to keep her secret at all times means she is often terribly lonely. She is disarmed by the friendliness of William, who seems unfazed by the large port wine birthmark that stains her face, and he is equally unruffled when he guesses her secret, though it is her childhood friend, Elizabeth, that she yearns for. Jem’s interest in the coffins is both a product of her natural curiosity, and a distraction from her father’s illness, as well as the uncertainty of the Infirmary’s impending closure.

“In reality they were no more than a collection of poorly-executed boxes, foolish totems that may well have been made and hidden away by a child, their significance at best random, and most likely meaningless. And yet I knew, in my heart, that these were spurious arguments.”

The discovery of the coffins is an eventual catalyst for three murders, Jem’s wrongful incarceration, and a revelation of past atrocities. The mysteries are interesting and involved. There are, among the often arrogant, petty, and morally corrupt staff of St. Savours, several suspects.

Where the novel unfortunately fell down for me was in the uneven pacing, exacerbated by the heavy foreshadowing of events.

“Stiff with old gore, Dr Graves’s coat had a thick, inflexible appearance, and a sinister ruddy-coloured patina like waxed mahogany. Dr Magorian’s was worse, being as dark and lustreless as a black pudding.”

Perhaps the strongest element of the novel is Thomson’s horrifying yet compelling visceral descriptions of the medical practices and beliefs of 1850. The author walks us through the dank and stinking wards of the Infirmary crowded with festering patients, the blood spattered operating rooms with floors strewn with sawdust, and the damp and chilly dissecting room. Thomson’s characters also briefly venture out of St. Saviours into the equally squalid streets of London, and to Newgate Prison.

I enjoyed Beloved Poison, particularly for its Victorian atmosphere and though it has its flaws, as the first in a series, I can see the potential, and I hope to read more.



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Review: The Woman In Darkness by Charlie Donlea


Title: The Woman in Darkness

Author: Charlie Donlea

Published: April 2nd 2019, Bantam

Status: Read April 2019- Courtesy PenguinRandomHouse



My Thoughts:

In 1979, a serial killer was arrested, but jailed for only a single murder – that of Angela Mitchell whose body was never found. Now, after forty years of incarceration, ‘The Thief’ is finally being recommended for parole.

In 2019, Rory Moore, a talented and dogged forensic crime reconstructionist, is forced to put her law degree to use when her father passes away, and she is required to represent his long time client at his parole hearing.

Rory is baffled by the forty year clandestine relationship between the alleged serial killer and her late father, and with the obsessiveness she is known for, begins to dig into the past, uncovering a stunning secret.

The novel unfolds over two timelines which largely follows Rory in the present, and Angela Mitchell in the past, offering the occasional brief chapter from other characters who are significant to the story including The Thief, Rory’s father, and her Aunt Greta.

Rory is an interesting character, it is her obsessive nature that contributes to her skill as a cold case reconstructionist, she immerses herself in the minutiae of a case, searching for patterns and overlooked details. Though she maintains an intimate relationship with her boyfriend Lane, and her Aunt Greta, she is essentially a loner, who avoids social interaction and has regular episodes of anxiety.

Rory is intrigued by the similarities between herself and Angela Mitchell. Angela too was a victim of anxiety and exhibited obsessive-compulsive behaviour. In 1979 the murders of five young women caught Angela’s attention and she secretly spent hours every day studying the details of the crimes, eventually finding a pattern that led to the identity of the killer. Fearful her psychiatric history would prevent the law from taking her seriously, she anonymously shared her theories with the police, and then disappeared. The police assumed she too had become a victim of ‘The Thief’, but Rory soon comes to believe otherwise.

It’s not so much the mystery that surrounds the identity of ‘The Thief’, or even Angela’s fate that is central to The Woman in Darkness, though the answers to both are compelling. Donlea’s focus is on the repercussions of the secrets revealed, especially for Rory. I enjoyed the twists of the plot and its dramatic revelations, and I thought the pacing was well measured.

I did think it was a shame that the case the Detective had brought to Rory at the beginning of the novel went no where, I would have liked to have seen how Rory worked a standard case as a forensic reconstructionist. Perhaps it’s something Donlea is planning to explore in a later book, Rory Moore has potential as a central character in a series, otherwise it was a needless distraction.

The Woman in Darkness is an engaging thriller with an appealing protagonist, this is Charlie Donlea’s third novel, though the first I have read.

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Published  in the US as Some Choose Darkness

Review: 55 by James Delargy


Title: 55

Author: James Delargy

Published: May 1st 2019, Simon & Schuster

Status: Read April 2019- courtesy Simon & Schuster



My Thoughts:


Having raced through the compelling story told by James Delargy in 55, I almost threw it against the wall when I read the last sentence (after double checking there were no pages missing).

“‘He wanted me to be number fifty-five,’ the man spluttered, looking Chandler squarely in the eye for the first time. He shivered and squeezed his eyes shut.”

On an ordinary morning in the remote Western Australian town of Wilbrook, a bruised and bloodied man stumbles into the police station with a horrifying story to tell. Identifying himself as Gabriel, he claims to have have been drugged while hitchhiking, waking to find himself chained to a wall in a small woodshed. His abductors name, Gabriel tells Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, is Heath, a short, stocky man with a deep tan, brown hair, a beard, probably about thirty years old.

Just a few hours later a local man marches a bruised and bloodied stranger into the police station at the end of his gun after being caught attempting to steal a car. It’s obvious to the Sergeant that this stranger is the man Gabriel described as his captor, and he moves to arrest him, but is stopped cold when Heath claims to have been drugged while hitchhiking, waking to find himself chained to a wall in a small woodshed. His abductors name, Heath tells Jenkins, is Gabriel, a tall, slim man with a deep tan, stubble chin and a soft voice.

“One of them, and only one of them was the true victim and the killer was piggy-backing their story. There was no other explanation.”

It is an intriguing and original hook, with both men claiming to be the victim of the other, and the possibility that as many as 54 more victims could be buried somewhere on the outskirts of town.

Single father Jenkins, and his small staff- young rookie Nick, the ambitious Luka, second in command, Tanya, and reliable Jim- are perhaps a little out of their depth in this situation. They make a few errors at the outset, which adds to the excitement, but one innocuous mistake in particular will come back to haunt the Sergeant.

Given the potential for the case to become a sensation, the investigation is quickly appropriated by Jenkins’ immediate boss, and former friend, Inspector Mitch Andrews. The last case the pair worked on together as rookies, involving a missing person, is recounted In a series of flashbacks, going someway to explaining the animosity between the two men.

Delargy’s main characters are well crafted and nuanced. Chandler’s easygoing nature contrasts with Mitch’s self-aggrandising behaviour, much in the same way that Gabriel appears to be the antithesis of Heath, yet as the story progresses,the author subtly develops details that adds depth to their characters.

The author maintains an effectively unsettling atmosphere through the novel, where the uncertainty, anxiety, and animosity experienced by, and between, the characters is underscored by the heat and isolation of the environment.

“On he drove through the undergrowth, pursuing the echo of his cries but never catching up. He pushed on harder because he was panicked and he pushed on harder because of the tears streaking down his face. He didn’t want anyone to see his hurt, immersing himself in the trees, dirt and despair…”

Delargy does an outstanding job of pacing in this novel. Tension ebbs and flows unpredictability as the plot twists and turns. I raced through the pages, finishing it in under three hours, desperate to learn the truth.

Oh, but that ending! I still can’t say I’m happy about it, but neither, it’s important to note, can I say that it was disappointment.

With an arresting premise, a riveting story, and a provocative conclusion, 55 is an impressive crime thriller debut novel from James Delargy.


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Review: A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill


Title: A Few Right Thinking Men {Rowland Sinclair #1}

Author: Sulari Gentill

Published: September 1st 2017, Pantera Press

Status: Read April 2019 – courtesy Pantera Press/Netgalley



My Thoughts:

Sulari Gentill’s historical mystery series featuring Rowland Sinclair has long been on my radar. I regret that it has taken me a decade to start it, though on the plus side, there are a further eight books ahead of me to enjoy.

A Few Right Thinking Men is set in New South Wales, Australia during the early 1930’s. It is a period of great political upheaval where, in the wake of The Great Depression, tensions are mounting resulting in the rapid growth of extremist organisations.

Rowland Sinclair, affectionately known as Rowly to his friends, is content to stay out of politics. As the youngest son of the wealthy and influential Sinclair family, he has largely been left to his own devices, allowing him to pursue his passion for painting, and support a revolving cast of fellow artists at his well appointed home, Woodlands House, on Sydney’s North Shore.

That is until Rowly’s uncle, for whom he is named, is killed during a home invasion, and rumour places the blame on an aggressive group within the New Guard, a far right political organisation focused on destroying the ‘red threat’ of communism.

“Till now, he had crowded his mind with his work and with things more mundane, but as he stood where his uncle had died, he was staggered by a deep sense of loss, and outrage.

Though Rowly’s goal is to bring uncle’s murderer to justice, the mystery surrounding his death is not really the focus of this novel. With the local detective reluctant to investigate, Rowly is convinced by his friends and houseguests Milton, Clyde and Edna to take on Clyde’s identity and infiltrate the New Guard, unwittingly putting himself at the epicentre of the dissent. It is the clandestine machinations of the various political organisations that is center stage here.

“He’d just have to hope to God that democracy would survive all these right thinking men.

The authors research is meticulous, sadly I’m almost wholly ignorant of my country’s past, but it’s understandable that Gentill would enthusiastically delve into this ‘fascinating and ludicrous’ period of Australian history. The situation, as the conflict between the spectrum of ideologies escalates, would be farcical if not for the seriousness with which they regard themselves. Each is convinced they are the only ‘right thinking men’ fit to lead the state, if not the entire country.

“You are who you are. Given your gilded background, you could be insufferable, but you’re not. I wouldn’t have you be anything else.”

I thought the characterisation of both the main and supporting characters was very well done. Rowly is kind, generous, thoughtful and loyal. For the most part apolitical, Rowly is well aware that his background makes him an enemy of the far left, and his lifestyle pits him against the far right. His older brother Wilford is contemptuous of his youngest brother’s ways, but Rowly is wonderfully supported by Edna, a beautiful sculptress with whom he is in love, communist poet Milt, and fellow painter, Clyde, and not just because he funds their modus vivendi.

A Few Right Thinking Men is an entertaining and astute novel, rich with history, drama, and engaging characters. I’m looking forward to continuing with the series.



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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.


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