Monday, 10 February 2020

Silver, by Chris Hammer.

           Chris Hammer’s second crime novel is a sequel to ‘Scrublands’, his epic, page-turning tale of drought, bush fires and murder in a remote little town in Australia’s New South Wales (reviewed January 2019):  now he follows it up with ‘Silver’, a sequel blessed with all the elements that made ‘Scrublands’ so successful – strong characters, marvellous evocations of time and place, and shrewd journalistic assessments of Australian reaction to foreign investment on a federal and local government level.
            Sacked journo Martin Scarsden is once again the main protagonist;  he is joining his new love, Mandy Blonde and her baby son Liam in Port Silver on the NSW coast.  Mandy has inherited a large property there and she thinks it’s the perfect place for a new start for them all – time to put the horrific events of the past year in their proper place:  behind them.  The only problem is that Martin hasn’t been completely honest with Mandy:  unbeknownst to her, he was born in Port Silver and when he was eight, suffered the terrible loss of his mother and twin sisters in an accident;  then he had to watch his father drink himself to death.  The day Martin left Port Silver was the happiest day of his life, and he doesn’t know how he will settle back into normal living (doing what?  He is no longer a journalist) when he has so many ghosts to haunt him.
            Their new life is off to a very shaky start, he thinks – until he calls round to the townhouse Mandy has rented, only to find her with hands bloodied, shaking with terror, and a stabbed and dying man stretched out in her hallway.  To make a horrendous situation even worse, Martin recognises the victim as that of his old school friend Jasper Speight who, presumably, had called round particularly to see Martin:  he had damning evidence of local corruption and wanted Martin to investigate.  Now he is dead and Mandy, of all people, is a suspect.  The situation could not get any worse, thinks Martin, and God hears that and laughs.
            Mr Hammer has written a big novel – some 560 pages – and it’s chock-full of minor characters and situations, a lot of which feels like unnecessary padding:  there are more murders and even more suspects:  when the final unveiling is flourished I have to say that it’s almost an anti-climax.  It’s true that I never suspected whodunnit, but I nearly drowned with all the red herrings.  Having said that, ‘Silver’ is still a fine, suspenseful read.  (You just have to have strong wrists!)  FOUR STARS. 

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