Book Review – June 2022 – Opal Country – Chris Hammer

So – Chris Hammer; one of the foremost writers in the genre called Outback Noir. Set in rural or smalltown Australia, it’s some of the hottest (literally and figuratively) fiction around! Tell us about Opal Country…

This is Hammer’s fourth book, and he’s establishing himself as one of the leading lights in this genre – Jane Harper was first to burst onto the scene, with The Dry (although the late Peter Temple has a couple of crime fiction novels worth a look), and she was followed by a number of authors – and, so far, they’ve all been very good. Chris Hammer is one of the best, with his Martin Scarsden series (Scrublands, Silver and Trust), and now Opal Country. Before we talk about Opal Country, some other names worth a mention are Emma Viskic, Garry Disher, Helen Fitzgerald, Michael Robotham, and Kathryn Fox. I also recently reviewed a book called Wake, which is an excellent debut by a writer called Shelley Burr – don’t miss it.

So what’s Opal Country about?

It features a new character – cop Ivan Lucic. Lucic is sent from the city to investigate a murder in a small town, which is dying as an opal mining town (and doesn’t have much else going for it, save a large open cast mine.) He’s partnered with Nell Buchanan, who was previously based in the town in question, Finnigan’s Gap. For personal reasons, she is not happy to be back – and nor is she popular, as she busted some cops who were on the take with dealers, but those in charge value her intel on the town and some of its characters.

Tell us a bit about the murder…it’s somewhat unusual isn’t it?

It is. The victim was an opal miner, and his death is called in anonymously, because it was discovered by the lowest of the low – the “ratters.” They basically steal from an opal mine when they hear a miner is on a good streak – as it’s such a small place, with only one place to sell your stones, it’s not easy to keep it a secret when you hit a good seam of stones. It’s such an issue that some miners sleep right at their mine, to protect their claim.

The victim is found crucified, on a large cross of wood – but that was done some time after his death. Does this mean two different parties were involved in the murder? And what about his history, when he killed his wife and her sister, his neighbouring miner’s wife and mother to his son years before? Could someone still want revenge for that…?

There’s also a somewhat bizarre religious settlement on the edge of the town, which Jonas, the victim, and his wife, had been involved with years before. All these places need investigation by Ivan and Nell – for a small town, Finnigan’s Gap has a lot of people for them to cross off their list!

And Ivan and Nell have some personal issues to deal with too, don’t they?

Ivan has a fondness for gambling, and pours money into the machines at the local club where everyone eats and drinks…mainly drinks, as is the case in small towns with nothing to do. And Nell had a bit of a romance going when stationed here previously, the rekindling of which ends in complete embarrassment for her.

It’s a big book – the hardback comes in at just under 500 pages – but, if you’re like me, you’ll gulp it down in big chunks. It’s “bloody brilliant,” as they’d say Down Under!

Opal Country is out now in paperback. I’d like to thank Wildfire Books for sending me a proof, but that in no way affected my opinion. This is an honest review.

BLURB: Opals…

In the desolate outback town of Finnigans Gap, police struggle to maintain law and order. Thieves pillage opal mines, religious fanatics recruit vulnerable youngsters and billionaires do as they please.

Bodies…

Then an opal miner is found crucified and left to rot down his mine. Nothing about the miner’s death is straight-forward, not even who found the body. Homicide detective Ivan Lucic is sent to investigate, assisted by inexperienced young investigator Nell Buchanan.

But Finnigans Gap has already ended one police career and damaged others, and soon both officers face damning allegations and internal investigations. Have Ivan and Nell been set up, and if so, by whom?

Secrets…

As time runs out, their only chance at redemption is to find the killer. But the more they uncover, the more harrowing the mystery becomes, and a past long forgotten is thrown into scorching sunlight.

Because in Finnigans Gap, nothing stays buried for ever.

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