Author: Chris Hammer
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 1st October 2019
Synopsis: Martin Scarsden returns in the sequel to the bestselling Scrublands.
For half a lifetime, journalist Martin Scarsden has run from his past. But now there is no escaping.
He’d vowed never to return to his hometown, Port Silver, and its traumatic memories. But now his new partner, Mandy Blonde, has inherited an old house in the seaside town and Martin knows their chance of a new life together won’t come again.
Martin arrives to find his best friend from school days has been brutally murdered, and Mandy is the chief suspect. With the police curiously reluctant to pursue other suspects, Martin goes searching for the killer. And finds the past waiting for him.
He’s making little progress when a terrible new crime starts to reveal the truth. The media descend on Port Silver, attracted by a story that has it all: sex, drugs, celebrity and religion. Once again, Martin finds himself in the front line of reporting.
Yet the demands of deadlines and his desire to clear Mandy are not enough: the past is ever present.
An enthralling and propulsive thriller from the acclaimed and bestselling author of Scrublands.
I read Chris Hammer’s first book when it came out last year, and what was interesting about it was that it was more about why the crime happened, rather than the who or how. In the sequel, Silver, the focus is on clearing a single person – Mandalay Blonde – who is Martin’s girlfriend. When Martin arrives back in Port Silver, he is confronted with the murder of an old friend, Jasper Speight, and Mandalay’s supposed guilt. The set-up is promising, no doubt, because a death in Martin’s hometown has the potential to be intricate and, in some ways, it was There were many engaging sections, and at the same time, many that felt like they meandered too much.
I did enjoy it when the crimes were discussed and mixed into the recipe – for me, these were the most interesting parts. I wanted a resolution to the accusations against Mandalay – and we got one, of course – there always has to be, I just wish the baking journey had spent a little more time on the crime rather than just exploring the personal side – both of these can be done equally and I think, in far fewer pages than 580.
At the same time, Martin must confront his past and the people from it – which is done very heavily, and in a very meandering way – I felt this took away from the main murder, and also, from some of the more interesting aspects of the novel even though it seemed to have some baring on what happened, it felt abrupt when it appeared and it wasn’t always clear when we were flashing back into the past. Whilst intriguing and necessary, I had hoped some of these flashbacks were clearer, and it all led to something that I thought came quite out of the blue. Though it gave the characters and story something interesting to do, and explained some of the things earlier on, it came on all too quickly and maybe could have been dealt with earlier and without dropping vague hints – this was one of the aspects I didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I should have. The family tragedy and drama is very interesting – and would have been more interesting if some things didn’t feel as though they faded into the distance – without knowing something strange was simmering and cooking away, the Big Reveal felt a bit abrupt.
The one plotline I had hoped would have more meat and intrigue to it was about the cult storyline appears properly more than halfway through and bubbles away until the real crime that occurs there and is loosely linked to the original crime smashes into being in an abrupt way. Cult stories today are much of a muchness. But a cult were crimes might actually happen is an intriguing idea. This had the potential to be really well executed. Something seems to have interfered somewhere in the process, however, because we ended up with something not as satisfying, and that felt rushed. Perhaps if the preparation had been slower and more detailed, this part of the plot may have had a better outcome. Whilst a lot of the book has worked, it appeared parts of it were rushed and the speed at which it was concluded left me feeling disappointed that this didn’t get as much attention. Then adding a new idea close to the end, without enough setting up left me a bit lost, because that also would have been interesting to tease out a bit more. New ideas should be teased out and added far earlier. In some ways, this did make sense, but in others, I feel like suggesting these things earlier could have made for a better story. Overall, there were many elements I liked, but these faded into the background.
There are elements that work here – many that do, and some that don’t. Whilst the ending was satisfying in some ways, in others it didn’t, but I hope this book works for the fans and others who enjoy this kind of thing. It did have promise, and I do think had some meandering parts been sacrificed to focus on crimes, or at least, some things that happened more than once been tightened a little, this would have worked much better for me. I do hope there are people out there who will like this novel, but in this instance, this just didn’t work for me the way I had hoped it would.