In Chris Hammer’s explosive thriller, Scrublands, a mass shooting committed by a preacher, around whom rumors of child sexual abuse swirl, and the discovery of two murdered backpackers a year later add up to an enthralling mystery for reporter Martin Scarsden.
Amid the blistering heat of the Australian outback, Martin’s initial assignment is to write about how the community of Riversend has endured the year following preacher Byron Swift’s five-person killing spree on the front steps of his church. But as soon as Martin begins asking questions, he soon realizes that previous reports about Byron’s motive—that he was a pedophile—were wrong.
The drought-stricken town and its denizens harbor dark secrets, all of which slowly begin to come to light the further Martin’s investigation takes him. He persistently follows the breadcrumbs offered up to him, some more willingly than others. The police can only offer so much information on the record. Some townsfolk don’t want to have to relive the horror of that day again. And some hold clues to what really happened but are afraid to divulge them.
After a raging brush fire uncovers two new bodies on the outskirts of town, the investigation attracts more reporters from the big city, as well as an agent with the ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation), and even more questions. The why behind Byron’s killing frenzy quickly becomes more muddled as Martin’s quest for the truth nears an explosive conclusion.
An award-winning journalist himself, Hammer skillfully guides Martin through a series of interviews with the reluctant townsfolk to get to the truth. With vivid prose, a smothering sense of atmosphere and an at-times heart-wrenching story, Scrublands is a sizzling hot read for a cold winter night.