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.
My review of Scrublands
Scrublands is a compelling crime novel set in the blistering heat of the Australian scrublands and it captivated me from beginning to end.
The novel opens with the shocking and disturbing actions of the young local priest, who on a quiet Sunday morning before church shoots dead five men. I was left shocked and bewildered as to why he would commit such an evil act. So too are the inhabitants of Riversend, who exist on a day to day basis in their dying town.
Martin Scarsden is the outdider, the journalist who visits the town one year after the shootings to write an article about how the town is coping one year on. But Martin starts to as is questions about the young priest and therefore who knew nim, digging deeper to try and unearth the truth. Then, when two bodies are dis covered in thescrublands, he begins to investigate what has happened in this sleepy town, that most people strive to leave.
This is an incredibly clever crime novel with a huge emphasis on setting and characterisation. I began to care deeply about Martin, and was hugely invested in him and his own struggle with his past. This inner struggle and need for acceptance is played out in the colourful characters that he meets in the town. You are never quite sure who you can trust and who is telling the truth. Just like Martin, I felt very much like the outsider and desperately needed to know the truth.
The oppressive, cloying heat and almost claustrophobic setting of Riversend creates a novel in which you can smell the heat and taste the dry air. It creates a sense of unease and highlights the realities of living in this type of town where everyone knows your name and personal business.
This debut novel is a dazzling and all consuming read about love, past atrocities and mental health. It's about a sense of community that is both suffocating and protective at the same time. It's a story that will stay with me for a very long time.
With thanks to @Bookywookydooda for sending me a review copy for review purposes.
Scrublands is published by Wildfire in hardback on 8 Jan. The kindle version is available to read now.