I didn't read this book until December, so maybe I'm biased towards it as it's stayed freshest in my mind, but there's no denying it's a truly magnificent read.*
SCRUBLANDS BY CHRIS HAMMER
In an isolated country town ravaged by drought, a charismatic young priest opens fire on his congregation, killing five men before being shot dead himself.
A year later, journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals don't fit with the accepted version of events.
Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking discovery rocks the town. The bodies of two backpackers - missing since the time of the massacre - are found in the scrublands. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is the one in the spotlight.
Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to uncover a truth that becomes 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.
I like Australia-set films and books and the best ones always seem to be these claustrophobic, tense, outback-set ones. Riversend is a dying town, both from its bad press and the stifling drought. Martin meets a motley collection of locals all with their own agenda and secrets (and with great names such as Harley Snouch and Codger Harris 😄). Slowly, he peels away the layers to discover why Father Byron killed five men and let's not forget all the other sub-plots running through the book. He's an imperfect character, head over heels with the woman who runs the bookshop, waxing and waning between staying and leaving and at times you question his judgement.
What I loved about this apart from the great characters is the setting. The author's descriptions of the heat, the oppressive sun and the deserted town are just stunning. You feel like you're there and when Martin buys ice-cold water from the store, you can taste it on your tongue.
It was so easy to read and so immersive, I read it really quickly and when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it and longing to get back to it, which is the sign of a truly great book. Original and thought-provoking, I give it 9 and a half out of 10. The reason it loses half a star is I wasn't entirely convinced about the denouement. I would still recommend it unreservedly.
* I received this copy from Net Galley in exchange for a review.