Chris Hammer was a journalist for years before writing his first thriller, Scrublands, (see Kim’s review here). In Scrublands, investigative journalist Martin Scarsden visits a town in the bush where, a year before, a priest had shot at his congregation before being killed himself. He discovers that the accepted facts don’t fit and in doing so, puts himself at the centre of the picture with terrible consequences.
Hammer’s second novel, Silver, is set a few months later. After the events in Riversend, Martin took some time to write a book about the case and his experience – he was fired from his Sydney-based newspaper – and now he is arriving at the town of Silver up the coast north of Sydney. As we soon discover, Silver is where Martin was born, brought up by his alcoholic father after his mother and sister died in a car accident, living in the area of town known as the ‘settlement’ – Silver’s equivalent of a trailer park. his father died too. Now he is returning, with some trepidation, but also looking forward to making a new home with Mandelay Blonde, Mandy, his girlfriend and her baby son. Mandy is also escaping the events back in Riversend where they met.
However, Martin’s reunion with Mandy is not to be a good one, for he arrives to find a body in the hallway of the rented house and Mandy sitting in the lounge with bloody hands. What’s more, the body is an old friend of Martin’s – Jasper Speight. Martin phones it in, and he and Mandy get hauled to the police station. Martin has an alibi, he’d given two backpackers a lift into town.
Silver is a seaside town, nestling at the base of an escarpment, it’s ripe for redevelopment, needing gentrification to bring more tourists in since the main employer, the cheese factory closed after its owner disappeared, presumed dead. Everyone is wondering who will inherit the cheese factory once its owner can be officially declared dead. Jasper worked for his mother, a real estate agent – and it soon becomes clear that the main plot will involve many different parties, rivals for buying up various parcels of land for their plans for a marina, a golf course – you know the kind of thing. The only problem is that no-one is selling, including former surf queen Jay Jay, who now runs a hippy retreat from her beachside ranch. Her guru leads the sessions, each week’s course always ends up with a druggy party!
Martin is dragged into investigating Jasper’s death to clear Mandy’s name, and the picture gradually gets more and more complex, as more and more people may be implicated in a more and more tangled web of property deals. Factor in some questionable drug dealing and it seems that everyone in Silver has something to hide – including Mandy – why did she choose Silver over any other town? Martin is forced to consider whether he can bear to live there again, and his relationship with Mandy will be strained to its limits. The one good thing is Martin’s Uncle Vern and his big family, Martin is so pleased to make contact again with his only remaining relatives.
There is a map of Silver at the beginning of the book, but it makes everything seem very compressed. In Hammer’s text, the roads were always longer, it always takes ages to get from place to place, so it was hard to relate all the features and buildings to each other sometimes – a complicated topography. It was also slightly difficult to see why this cul de sac of a town was the subject of such speculation – with just one road in, with hairpins all the way down the escarpment, I wouldn’t want to be trapped there!
And my, was the plot complicated! It seemed like it needed all 583 pages (of admittedly good sized type) to deal with the tangled web of people. I did warm to Martin though, and Morris Montifore, the out of town police officer sent up to investigate the murder. I also felt for Jay Jay, who had a lot of bad luck. Perhaps I should have read Scrublands first, for the one person I didn’t get a good feel for was Mandy, who I felt remained rather opaque in this novel. What was amazing, is that Martin and Morris manage to tie up everything in the end – there were so many different subplots going on at one stage that I couldn’t see how they could ever all come together. But, I certainly enjoyed Silver enough to really want to read Scrublands, which I have on the shelves. In general, I’m not a fan of the doorstep crime thriller – although there are exceptions – Tana French’s Into the Woods and Christopher Bollen’s Orient for example. By comparison, I felt that Silver was a little over-complicated in its scope, with too many secrets, too many involved, but if you like a chunky crime read, it’s a good one, if not quite up to French’s standard. (8.5/10)