Conspiracies of Silence

Sunday Times, 5 January 2020

With Silver, the Scrublands author Chris Hammer adds lustre to his reputation

It’s just over a year since Chris Hammer’s first novel, Scrublands, burst onto the crime scene, bagging the CWA New Blood Dagger for 2019. Now Australia’s crime renaissance continues with his second, Silver (Wildfire £16.99), in which former foreign correspondent Martin Scarsden goes back to his small coastal hometown.
It was clear in Scrublands that Scarsden had emotional baggage, blundering into a community traumatised by a massacre without considering the consequences. The case left him chastened and with an urge to return to his roots in Port Silver, where he grew up with an alcoholic father. Scarsden wants to make peace with his troubled past, but his good intentions are thwarted when he arrives to find that one of his oldest friends has been murdered. The town itself is split over plans to turn a part of the coast beloved of surfers and backpackers into an upmarket marina. Hammer combines Scarsden’s backstory with a vivid portrait of a divided community to mesmerising effect.

All the Rage (Penguin £7.99) is the fourth novel in Cara Hunter’s hugely popular series about a team of detectives in Oxford. It opens with a minicab driver spotting a teenage girl on the outskirts of the city, visibly distressed, her clothing torn. It’s clear that the girl has been abducted, dragged off the street and assaulted, but she’s too scared to talk to the police. Their fears that they are dealing with a serial predator seem to be confirmed when a second girl disappears, creating a storm on social media, but the missing girl’s friends are surprisingly uncooperative. Bullying and the terrifying vulnerability of teenage girls are at the heart of this tough and occasionally disturbing novel.

Nalini Singh is a bestselling author of paranormal fiction, but A Madness of Sunshine (Gollancz £14.99) is her first crime novel. Singh was born in Fiji and grew up in New Zealand, where the book is set in the idyllic seaside town of Golden Cove. On the surface it’s a warm, inclusive community and no one wants to talk about dark secrets such as domestic violence. Singh’s main character, Anahera, has Maori heritage like many of the residents, but she fled Golden Cove after her father was implicated in her mother’s violent death. Returning to the town years later, Anahera finds a conspiracy of silence about the disappearance of three young women tourists, who supposedly got lost in the bush. That silence starts to fall apart when a local girl goes missing, prompting an increasingly desperate search. Singh puts her previous writing experience to great effect in this accomplished novel, showing how manipulative men cover their tracks.

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