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.


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?


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.

Book Review – June 2022 – Wake – Shelley Burr

So – yet another book from Down Under! This “Outback Noir” is really becoming a big thing, isn’t it?

It is, and it’s no surprise when you come across books like this – and a debut at that! And I hadn’t realised until now that this was the Winner of CWA Dagger for Debut Crime Fiction…and once you’ve read a chapter or two of the book, that won’t be a surprise at all! It absolutely blew me away, and to be honest it doesn’t read like a debut – you feel like you’re in the hands of a well-established author…it’s that good! Shelley Burr is a name to watch, that’s for sure!

Where is it set, then?

It’s set in a small, dying outback town called Nannine. About an hour’s drive outside it, on a large sheep farm eighteen years previously, one of the most notorious missing person cases in Australia took place. A nine-year-old girl called Evie McCreery was kidnapped – taken from the bedroom where she was asleep with her non-identical twin, Mina, and never seen again. It’s constantly debated on internet chatrooms (we see some of the Reddit-type posts at the beginning of chapters), but there’s been no answer to the whereabouts of Evie, or to what happened to her – despite a colossal reward, which was doubled by the McCreery family. Before she died of cancer, Mrs McCreery was a constant campaigner for answers as to what happened to her daughter – on TV, in newspapers, magazines, and eventually writing a book, the funds from which financed the McCreery half of the reward.

So where exactly are we at when the book opens?

A new face appears, hoping to be able to finally put the case to bed. Lane Holland needs the reward money, as he wants to finance his younger sister’s Lynnie’s university course so she doesn’t have to work at all sorts of menial jobs, which would end up eating into her study time, as he knows from personal experience – it’s how he financed his Criminology degree. (I’ve been there – just after moving into a flat in Glasgow’s West End I found a job waitressing in a pizzeria on Gibson Street, for £12 a night. What was meant to be two nights a week soon became five, and I was very popular with my three flatmates, too, as when I left at 11 pm the chef would insist I took a pizza – a meal was a perk of the job. I used to see my flatmates hanging out the window as I walked home with the box! Happy days…anyway, I digress…!)

But Lane is no stranger to crime solving, is he? Hasn’t he already had some success solving cold cases?

He has, and has already received two rewards for solving cold cases involving missing girls or young women. However, they weren’t nearly so high profile as the McCreery case – and nor were the rewards so substantial.

It takes a fair bit of time to build up trust with Mina who, understandably, is tired of gawkers and rubberneckers, and people who think she – or one of her family – may know more than they’ve hitherto revealed about Evie’s death. Unlike her late mother, Mina and her father don’t court the media, and do what they can to get by in farming, as well as a call centre job working from home Mina has, advising other farmers, many in despair at the state of the industry, on behalf of the Australian Government.

What did you enjoy so much about the book?

I really liked the characters, and how they were developed – Mina and Lane are both essentially loners, and somewhat distrustful of others due to events in their childhoods (Mina’s we obviously know about; we learn more about Lane’s background as the book moves on.) It’s very well-paced, gradually drawing you in so you want to learn more and more about Mina, Lane, and, of course, what did happen on that fateful night that was to change so many lives forever.

There are also some fantastic twists, although I’m giving nothing away! Shelley Burr is clearly going to be a name to watch – and with the buzz around so-called Outback Noir at the moment, she couldn’t have picked a better time to release her first novel…and I, for one, can’t wait to read more of her work!

One of the best books I’ve read so far this year!

I read this book courtesy of Pigeonhole Post.

BLURB: The tiny outback town of Nannine lies in the harsh red interior of Australia. Once a thriving center of stockyards and sheep stations, years of punishing drought have petrified the land and Nannine has been whittled down to no more than a stoplight, a couple bars, and a police stationAnd it has another, more sinister claim to fame: the still-unsolved disappearance of young Evelyn McCreery nineteen years ago.

Mina McCreery’s life has been defined by the intense public interest in her sister’s case–which is still a hot topic in true-crime chat rooms and on social media. Now an anxious and reclusive adult, Mina lives alone on her family’s sunbaked destocked sheep farm.

Enter Lane Holland, a young private investigator who dropped out of the police academy to earn a living cracking cold cases. Before she died, Mina’s mother funded a million-dollar reward for anyone who could explain how Evelyn vanished from her bed in the family’s farmhouse. The lure of cash has only increased public obsession with Evelyn and Mina–but yielded no answers.

Lane wins Mina’s trust when some of his more unconventional methods show promise. But Lane also has darker motivations, and his obsession with the search will ultimately risk both their lives–and yield shocking results.

Compulsively readable, with an unforgettable setting and cast of characters, WAKE is a powerful, unsparing story of how trauma ripples outward when people’s private tragedies become public property, and how it’s never too late for the truth to come out.