Wildfire | 2020 (9 January) | 576p | Review copy | Buy the book
Events have changed journalist Chris Scarsden. After believing that he’d left his home town of Port Silver, with its traumatic memories, behind for good, he now realises that if he wants to have any hope of a future he must return. His girlfriend Mandy has inherited property in the town and so he makes the choice to leave Sydney where he has been finishing a book about his most recent investigative case and pick things up with Mandy and her little boy, Liam – if they’ll have him. But this also means facing his demons and they’re hiding around almost every corner. And in a town like this, where everyone knows everybody else, Martin, now a well-known journalist, is treated with suspicion.
It all goes wrong from the moment Martin arrives – to put it mildly. He arrives at the house where Mandy is staying only to find a man, an old friend, stabbed to death just moments before and Mandy is with him covered in his blood. It seems an open and shut case for the local police but Martin is determined to prove her innocence, to save her and therefore save himself. And the more he digs into the secrets of this troubled place, Martin realises that there is more going on in Port Silver than he could have imagined and very soon he’s at the heart of it.
Silver is Chris Hammer’s second novel to feature Martin Scarsden but, although it follows on from the superb Scrublands, Silver can also be read as a stand alone novel. The two novels are different, with the latest set by the coast and the first set in the heart of Australia’s baked interior. That case altered Martin in many ways and so the man we meet here is one who is searching for answers about himself. If you haven’t read the first it won’t matter but, if you have, it’ll give you more background to Martin and Mandy and their difficult relationship.
Port Silver is a mesmerising place and it forms the heart of Silver, just as the outback was so important for Scrublands. Chris Hammer is a fantastic writer and this is especially displayed in the novels’ sense of place. The map at the beginning introduces us to Port Silver, a town in decay, and we spend a fair amount of time getting to know it as Martin explores it so thoroughly in pursuit of answers.
The people are also fascinating. There’s a commune in the town which is bringing outsiders, even celebrities, to the town and therefore attracting attention, although not in a positive way, and this adds something to the tension within the community. But there is a lot more going on than this as more than one person eyes up the town’s opportunities. A murder, with all of the suspicions, fear and bewilderment that follows, stirs up secrets like nothing else and Martin must walk a fine line between being a local with inside information, the chief suspect’s lover, an investigator and a journalist.
Silver is an epic book in many ways as, over the course of almost 600 pages, it scrutinises lives in the community of Port Silver. Thanks to the sandbar blocking its harbour, Port Silver never fulfilled its promise and the decline continues but there are some who are bound to this place for reasons that become clear when you read this novel. It’s deeply engrossing. It’s also an impressive achievement, with many threads weaving their way through its pages. Martin Scarsdale is a man with troubles, who doesn’t quite know how to go about things, and so it’s every bit as much a journey of discovery for Martin as it is a tense investigation of murder.