Book set in The Australian Outback – Scrublands by Chris Hammer
Novel set in the fictional towns of Riversend and Bellington.
Scrublands by Chris Hammer are an ominous place to be. The towns might be fictional but they are very raw and vivid. The heat and dust rises from the pages as you read and it makes for quite a reading experience.
“Nothing moves , except the shimmering heat haze rising from the street. The temperature must have hit forty without a breath of wind.”
In the isolated country town of Riversend, ravaged by drought, a young priest opens fire on his congregation, killing five men before being shot dead himself.
A year later, journalist Martin Scarsden arrives at the beleaguered town to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But no-one is willing to talk. And they don’t like Martin nosing around…
Scrublands by Chris Hammer is a fantastic debut novel. There’s something about novels set in the outback that makes them so compelling, but this novel takes it to new heights. This is a world of ghostly memories and buried secrets. The landscape is evoked with style from the start and it shimmers in the Australian heat throughout.
It’s set in January so it’s very hot out there. Martin, a journalist heads to town to do a story on the tragedy of a shooting massacre. This is not the town which welcomes visitors however. Certainly not visitors who want to dig up the past. The mystery surrounding the shooting still lingers however. The priest was suspected of pedophilia but that was never investigated.
Oh when you walk into that town with Martin, it’s like walking into the set of West World. A Dying town, remote and distant. In the middle of nowhere. Dust and tumbleweed roll by the peeling paint on the shutters. The only noise is the clack of a wooden sign creaking in the slight breeze. The people of the town walk around like zombies. There are a few friendly faces but are they to be trusted?
“He looks away to the horizon, shimmering and ill-defined under the harsh sunlight, the sun that should lift all shadows but instead blurs the edges of the world, renders the horizon debatable, so that it’s impossible to tell land from sky.”
There’s a shop, a pub, and surprisingly a bookshop. In such a remote place, this was nice to see. But that’s where the town stops endearing itself to the reader for this is not a nice place to be. It’s creepy, eerie, remote yet claustrophobic. Only Martin seems to wander the streets. He is a lone man in the desert.
As well as the past mystery, there is also a more recent one when bodies are found in the Scrublands of the title. This is when things really get interesting and it was hard to stop reading. The journey into this book was exciting and it never let up. You start to feel weary yourself with the heat and Martin’s frustration of being a stranger in every way.
Then two partially-decomposed bodies are found in a dam in the Scrublands, and things get really interesting. That’s when the quirky locals really come into their own. An impressive and fascinating bunch of characters. The landscape is a major character here – it controls life, temper, social habits . The sand whips up into a frenzy, dropping emotional twists, red herrings, unwelcome guests and murder onto the town. IT’s a lot of fun, finding out the patterns they make on the fabric of the landscape and the people.
BookTrail Boarding Pass: Scrublands