Review: Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer

 

Title: Treasure & Dirt

Author: Chris Hammer

Published: 28th September 2021, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read October 2021 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

 

My Thoughts:

 

Though there are loose links to his bestselling Martin Scarsdale series (Scrublands, Silver, Trust) Treasure & Dirt is a standalone crime procedural from Australian author Chris Hammer.

“Maybe this is it. The sky is too big, the land is too big. Too many places for secrets.”

When the body of Jonas McGee is found crucified at the bottom of his opal mine in Finnegan’s Gap, Sydney homicide detective Ivan Lucic is sent to the remote town in north western New South Wales to investigate. Paired with Detective Constable Narelle Buchanan, who served the town in uniform, it seems prudent to first consider the rule of proximity placing a handful of suspects in the frame, but it’s not long before the suspect pool widens as their investigation exposes old grudges, new rivalries, and buried secrets.

“The body is stinking, leaking, a horrible parody of Christ.”

Taking place over a period of about a week, Hammer develops an intricate but coherent plot in Treasure & Dirt. Lucic’s murder investigation starts with McGee’s neighbouring claim owner and his son with whom McGee shares a tragic past, the dead miner’s former offsider, and an unidentified team of ‘ratters’, men who steal opals from unattended mines, as suspects, but rapidly expands to assess if a desperate daughter, members of a local religious cult, or a pair of warring billionaires, may have played a part in the man’s demise. The story twists and turns as Lucic and Nell try to reconcile the past with the present to solve the murder, and make sense of the additional crimes they uncover.

“This isn’t an opportunity, he realises, this is a test.”

Lucic is a methodical investigator, inclined to follow every possible lead to its end. He presents as an introvert, self contained and thoughtful, but also determined and dependable. With his partner, Detective Inspector Morris Montifore, under investigation by Professional Standards, and his own vulnerabilities due to a gambling habit, Lucic feels the weight of the case, and its implications for his own career.

Similarly Nell, an inexperienced but ambitious investigator, is determined to prove her worth, a goal that may be made difficult by her history in Finnegan’s Gap. I liked Nell a lot, as a police officer she is smart with good instincts, though her personal life would suggest otherwise.

“It’s not your average town. Too many men, not enough women. Too much grog, too many crims, too much opal lust. Too bloody hot.”

Hammer deftly captures the starkness of the outback landscape, scarred and barren, seared by the relentless heat, beset by flies. Finnegan’s Gap is a hardscrabble town, slowly dying as opal finds become rarer, its population increasingly made up of an antisocial element. We are introduced to a handful of rough country old-timers and some eccentric characters, however I noticed a lack of racial diversity amongst the cast.

“Time we went to town. Time we started to set things right.”

Skilfully evoking a sense of place, offering realistic characters, and an intriguing storyline, Treasure & Dirt is a brilliant, engrossing read.

++++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia I Amazon

Giveaway & Excerpt: Trust by Chris Hammer

I’m delighted to share with you an excerpt of Trust from bestselling Australian author Chris Hammer, courtesy Allen & Unwin.

The third book to feature journalist Martin Scarsden following on from Scrublands and Silver, I posted a review last week, describing Trust as gripping, dynamic, and thrilling.

Read the prologue below, and then scroll down to enter to win a copy of Trust.

If the file does not scroll please click here to read the Prologue

GIVEAWAY

Courtesy Allen & Unwin

I have one copy of

Trust by Chris Hammer

to giveaway to one lucky Australian resident.

ENTRY CLOSED

Congratulations M Tyack

*PLEASE NOTE: Only Australian residents are eligible to enter*

Entries close November 8th, 2020

The giveaway will be random drawing on November 9th and the winner will be notified by email within 48 hours

**********

Review: Trust by Chris Hammer

 


Title: Trust

Author: Chris Hammer

Published October 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read October 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

“It’s the past, coming after her, propelled by karma.”

Trust is the third impressive crime fiction novel from Chris Hammer to feature Australian journalist Martin Scarsden, following on from Scrublands, and Silver.

It’s a period of Mandalay’s undisclosed past that catapults her and Martin into this clever and compelling thriller. With the action moving from Port Silver to Sydney, Hammer weaves together multiple threads in Trust that begins with a body found in the foundations of a Sydney apartment block, and leads to the unmasking of a stunning conspiracy among some of the city’s elite involving theft, corruption, blackmail and multiple murders. The plot is fast moving and suspenseful, the lives of both Mandy and Martin are repeatedly threatened as they unravel the complex mystery.

The narrative alternates between Mandy and Martin as Mandy tries to fix her past mistakes, and Martin investigates the murder of his mentor, retired Herald editor, Max. It’s no real surprise that their agenda’s eventually overlap, giving the couple the opportunity to work together, underscoring Hammer’s main theme – trust. There is growth for both of these characters in this novel which I appreciated, Mandy becomes more substantial, Martin less consumed by his journalistic ambition.

Familiar characters from Hammer’s previous novels make an appearance including Detective Inspector Morris Montifore, Detective Claus Vandenbruk, a couple of Martin’s newspaper colleagues, and Mandy’s lawyer, Winifred. I’m curious about Hammer’s penchant for using unusual names, in Trust he gives us characters called Tarquin, Zelda, Clarity, and Titus.

Trust unfolds over a period of a week, with subtle references to the NSW bushfires, the pandemic and the economic recession suggesting the events of the takes place in the winter of 2020. Hammer’s descriptions of Sydney are vivid and familiar, from the gritty inner city streets to the enclaves of the wealthy.

Gripping, dynamic and thrilling, Trust can be read as a stand-alone, but the experience is enhanced by familiarity with Scrublands and Silver, and I highly recommend all three.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$32.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia

Check out other participants in the Trust tour, and return to Book’d Out on October 29th for an exclusive chapter sample and your chance to win a copy!

Review: Silver by Chris Hammer

 

Title: Silver {Martin Scarsden #2}

Author: Chris Hammer

Published: October 1st 2019, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read October 1st 2019, courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

Silver is the sequel to Chris Hammer’s superb debut Scrublands, featuring journalist Martin Scarsden.

“Port Silver, it’s ghosts sheltering from the iridescent sun, but awaiting him nevertheless. Port Silver. For pity’s sake, why had Mandy chosen this town, of all towns, his hometown, to restart their lives?”

With the shocking events in Riversend behind them, Martin and his girlfriend, Mandalay Blonde, have chosen to make a fresh start together in Port Silver, where Mandy has inherited a house and property. Delayed in joining her, Martin finally arrives in the small coastal town only to discover a dead man in the hallway of their rented townhouse, and Mandalay covered in blood. Martin is stunned when he recognises the victim, once a close childhood friend, and with Mandy a prime suspect in the murder, must use all of his investigative skill to unmask the real killer.

Silver offers a compelling and complex mystery. In order to prove Mandalay innocent of involvement in Jasper Speight’s death, Martin begins searching for a motive for his murder. It seems most likely that Jasper was targeted due to an ongoing battle over a multi-million dollar land development deal, but Martin is frustrated by his failure to put all the pieces together. Stymied by the possible significance of a postcard Jasper was clutching when he died, the decade old disappearance of a factory owner, and a backpacking Visa scam, it’s not until a second shocking crime, which leaves seven dead, that the secrets of Port Silver begin to unravel. Hammer skilfully manages the various threads, eventually drawing them together to reveal a stunning conspiracy of greed, corruption, and revenge.

Taking place over a period of week, the deaths draws familiar Scrublands characters to Port Silver, including Detective Inspector Morris Montifore, and later Martin’s former newspaper colleagues, Bethanie and Buzz, and television journalist Doug Thunkleton.

The events of Riversend still play on Martin’s mind, but in focus are the ghosts of his childhood spent in Port Silver. Haunted by the tragic death of his mother and sisters, and the descent of his father into an alcoholic depression, he’d left the town at eighteen for university and never planned to return. Hammer continues to develop Martin’s character as Martin confronts the traumatic memories, and while examining his past, he is forced to reconsider his future.

Masterfully evoking a sense of place, while providing the reader with a compelling drama, an intriguing mystery, and interesting characters, Silver is another brilliant crime novel from Chris Hammer. Despite its size I read it in one sitting, unwilling to put it down.

+++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

Also by Chris Hammer reviews at Book’d Out

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