In August we’re thrilled to publishing Scrublands, the stunning debut novel from Chris Hammer. Set in a fictional Riverina town at the height of a devastating drought, Scrublands is one of the most powerful and original crime novels for years.
The isolated country town of Riversend has already been brought to its knees by endless drought, before a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself. A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy, but the stories he hears don’t fit with the accepted version of events. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.
Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town’s secrets stay buried.
Chris Hammer on Scrublands
A journalist for over thirty years, here’s Chris to explain how he came to the story:
At the height of the millennial drought, I travelled through inland Australia researching my non-fiction book The River. It really got under my skin: the landscape, the people, the desperation. Time and again I encountered stories of death and heartache, of hope and resilience. It stayed with me.
Inevitably, it became the setting as a complex crime story began bubbling away in my mind. Not just one crime, not just two but… Yet I also wanted to tell a story that was more than a series of plot points; I wanted compromised characters, struggling to survive, just like the town itself. And I wanted that sense of unending drought. Scrublands is the result.
Our staff LOVE Scrublands
Our staff are all hugely excited by Scrublands – here’s a few reactions to it, firstly from publisher Jane Palfreyman and others in the publishing department:
As soon as I read the extraordinary opening I was hooked, drawn into a story that held me captive until the final page. In Scrublands, Chris has produced something extraordinary – a brilliant mix of page-turning plot, unforgettable characters, and an evocation of the Australian landscape that makes you feel the heat and taste the dust.
Chris is such a good writer you can feel the heat shimmering off the page as you read. He has a beautiful writing style, spare and simply lyrical, that creates pure reading pleasure. It’s just gorgeous writing, and imbued with a sly humour that adds another dazzling layer.
I felt that life-sapping heat, and walked past those empty shopfronts. I smelt the mustiness of The Black Dog motel room and tasted the fried food at the bowling club. But above all I felt the mystery, and a page-turning compulsion to find out what had happened in Riversend.
Chris has written an extraordinary crime thriller, where the characters and sense of place are so perfectly drawn them seem real, and with a plotline and narrative drive that made it unputdownable.
– Tom Gilliatt, Publishing Director
I’m going to start by quoting the book itself —‘It had all the characteristics of a ripping yarn… murder, religion, spooks, sex.’ And what a ripping yarn this is! Scrublands is an absolute cracker, and an irresistible mix of all four and more (cults!).
His evocation of the small Australian town with too many secrets and an eerily high death toll was brilliant—Riversend feels both exposed and claustrophobic, which really heightened the sense of unease. Having a journalist putting the pieces together, rather than a straight-up police procedural, added such a richness to the narrative – what a brilliant read!
– Genevieve, Editor
Scrublands immediately gripped me, transporting me to a town apparently dying in the elbow of a dry riverbed but alive and bleeding with darkness and secrets under a baked crust and blazing sky. I journeyed with characters compelling, flawed, contradictory yet recognizable. This story will draw you deep and drag you irresistibly to its conclusion. Observant, concise, masterful, this is writing to savour.
– Courtney, Editorial Co-ordinator
I couldn’t stop reading Scrublands. Chris sets a compelling scene of a drought-choked Australian country town filled with a cast of memorable characters and all the essential ingredients for a bestseller – sex, religion and murder.
– Lillian, National Account Manager
Without a doubt the best crime thriller I’ve read in a long time. Long after reading the last page I’m still thinking about the town of Riversend with its arid desperation and it’s community of damaged inhabitants with secrets. Could this really happen in small town Australia? Absolutely! I loved it and can’t wait for everyone to start talking about Scrublands.
– Angela, WA Account Manager
It is not often that I am up till 3.00am reading a book; but Scrublands had me hooked. The description of a dying country town in the grip of a massive drought and heat wave just transports you there, and not in a good way. You become invested in the people who are left and hope that the mystery of what happened the year before can be resolved for them. Every time I thought I knew where the story was going it didn’t; so the surprises kept coming. You will be gripped from the very first page and will not want to put this wonderful book down.
– Maria, VIC Account Manager
The secrets, the lies, the deceit, the reporter battling to find the truth while harbouring his own recent nightmarish experience! A compelling read that was impossible to put down. Loved it.
– Justine, NSW Account Manager
In this industry we get to read a lot of books, some we like and some we don’t like, but every now and then a book comes along that just blows you away and Scrublands is one of those books. From the very first chapter you are hooked. The town, the tragedy, the people, nothing is what it seems. Chris Hammer is a master story teller. You will never look at a small town the same way again.
– Margaret, QLD Account Manager
I absolutely loved it. Real characters, a scorching landscape you could almost smell and I nearly died laughing at Codger. The pacing and plotting was fantastic. Best thing I’ve read since Peter Temple and definitely of that standard. And unusual to have such an interesting and believable protagonist. Just so Australian in a good way.
– Liz, SA Account Manager
Booksellers are also sold on Scrublands
Just to prove that it isn’t just all of us here at Allen & Unwin who are in love with Scrublands, here’s some of the early reviews from booksellers around the country:
SCRUBLANDS has its hooks into me early. Bring on the two hour flight back to Sydney. pic.twitter.com/MqESCBaxJA
— Simon McDonald (@writtenbysime) March 27, 2018
Suspenseful from start to finish, with plenty of regional colour informing its narrative, Scrublands combines sophisticated layers of mystery with an intensely scarred hero on a quest to uncover the truth behind the events that lead to a young country town priest calmly opening fire on his congregation. Chris Hammer has written a murderous thriller that begs comparison to Jane Harper’s The Dry and Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake. Deliberately paced and wound tight, this book will keep you awake until you’ve finished the final page. And maybe even after that.
– Simon, Potts Point Bookshop (read his full review here)
In the same vein as The Dry by Jane Harper, Scrublands is an intense story that is much more than a simple ‘who dunnit’. The many multi-faceted characters with complex motivations give this story a real depth not usually found in crime novels. Using Martin as the main character gives a fresh insight not just on the crime, but also on how modern media views the reporting of such tragedies.
Scrublands is a compelling and sinister tale, set against the harsh landscape of the outback. The sense of place and the strength of the plot is immersive, and while you learn the weaknesses and imperfections of the residents of Riversend, the shocking truth makes itself known.
– Jeremy, Dymocks Garden City
Having first heard about this book from another publisher who’d said it was fantastic, my interest was sparked. I now know why – a heady, page turning, tightly written story with multiple threads, all expertly interwoven. Believe me, once you open the first page, you won’t want to stop and come up for air until the last. I wouldn’t be surprised if sales outstrip The Dry. My only concern – I do hope the second book is well under way Chris Hammer!
– Jane, Beaufort Street Books
An unforgettable thriller, Scrublands grabs you by the throat in the first chapter and doesn’t let go until the last page. Highly recommended.
– Gavin, Matilda Bookshop
Scrublands, a quintessential Australian novel. The characters fully embrace the lifestyle of a country town, When darkness appears no matter how long ago, the town remains the same, I loved this book for it’s pure portrayal of Australian life, plus a few dark bits!
– Maxine, Harry Hartog Paddington
We are calling it early.. ‘Scrublands’ by Chris Hammer is going to be THE Crime Novel of the YEAR! SO many rave reviews so far. Can’t wait until August, @AllenAndUnwin #dymockscanberra #booklovers #welovebooks pic.twitter.com/H8I4rXqpef
— Dymocks Canberra (@DymocksCanberra) June 6, 2018
Read the opening chapters of Scrublands
What better way than to find out just how good Scrublands is than to read the opening chapters. Like Gavin notes above, our sales rep Michelle says the opening chapters will have you hooked and we certainly wouldn’t disagree!
His opening chapter will hook you and despite how difficult endings can be, this one is as damn near perfect an ending as I could ask for. Those last words…oh wow. You will be taken care of, so slide in to the front seat of Martin Scarsden’s rental and turn on the AC.
– Michelle, NSW Account Manager
Read the opening chapters below but you’ll have to wait to discover that perfect ending!