Book Review ‘Trust’ by Chris Hammer

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“Millie the Money Box” from Westpac Bank in conjunction with Sydney Olympic Games 2000. Used for illustration purposes only. My tie-in with the crime novel “Trust” which involves a bank and lost millions. Millie is not only memorabilia, she once held pocket money in the form of 50cent pieces. I wonder if coins, pocket money and piggy banks will exist in the future? © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020

—Review—

Martin Scarsden is the central character but in “Trust” he shared the limelight.  His girlfriend Mandalay Blonde’s story was just as valid as Martin’s but I found events lacked drama when it came to poor-girl-makes-good-gets-stuck.  She did get her act together when a group discussion propelled her into action.  Unbeknown to Mandy she would soon face major problems from an old-boy network, creepy co-worker, money laundering and large scale corruption.  Two major questions swirled around Mandy regarding her former fiancé and her place of employment, viz, “What was Tarquin Molloy playing at?” and “Where are Mollisons missing millions?”

Backstory is not the story and I started to lose interest in author Chris Hammer’s exposé on Mandalay and her stressful life.  She arrived in Sydney and quote “She wants to flee, to get back to her son, to protect him.  And yet the past is coming, it’s here, she can’t carry it back to Port Silver; she can’t risk it getting a trace of her boy…”  The ship had sailed on that one.  In previous books, she and Martin were in the media, the talk of the town, easily found by adversary Zelda Forshaw.

Halfway in, I wanted to shake up the action and indirectly Mandy obliged even though she was on an emotional rollercoaster.  She met a dodgy cop in a dingy café in a tunnel under Central Railway station without a companion, without telling anyone where she was going.  I said “Organised crime, Mandy, people were being murdered!”  Thus the script-writing elements showed with Chris Hammer’s talking heads and scene-setting rather than people who moved through their surroundings.  Ancillary characters were great, from the homeless to corporate high-flyers, a computer geek to a retro assassin and, of course, ruthless newspaper men. 

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Anomalies were Australian judge Elizabeth Torbett with Tory politics; Martin, a seasoned journo who relied on technology and a laptop but made novice mistakes; Mandy did not regularly check on son Liam in Port Silver; Martin had coffee with Montifore in Chapter 33 but “Goffing returns with the drinks…” Oops.

“Trust” the perfect title, and Chapter 28 and Chapter 29 alone were worth the price of the book.  Martin visited Justice Clarence O’Toole of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court and asked him a few questions.  The old judge was very ill but talked at length about his membership with The Mess, a private club, and the sudden death of Martin’s mentor and friend.  Afterwards Martin thought about his journalistic career and the slow agonising demise of print newspapers.  I went straight out and bought an edition of The Courier Mail.

Chris Hammer future-proofed his crime novel with coronavirus, and mentioned the pandemic several times, but it flopped for me.  Covid-19 was not over when I read the book.  At this point in time, Sydney still has coronavirus outbreaks and restrictions.  “Wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance”.

Martin and Mandy’s ordeal took place over seven days and I would not have enjoyed being in their shoes, but I enjoyed the Australian setting and frontispiece map of Sydney.  There was a wonderful iffy, dicey feel to the plot which at times stretched tropes and credibility, like the ASIO meet-up, or the dance of death, however a clever twist enhanced the story and the ending was unexpected.  On the whole, I liked this third instalment, quote “some huge story, some grand conspiracy” so cheers to more books and great reading in 2021 New Year.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

“Smartphones on and life-cancelling earbuds in”

From Trust Martin Scarsden crime series
by Chris Hammer 2020

My Festive Season Images

  1. Christmas elf carrying a very big glass flower.

  2.  Chirpy Christmas birds say it all.

  3.  Life is a bowl of Christmas cherries.

  4.  King Parrot eating its way through mini pine cones on conifer tree.

  5.  The four books I am reading over Christmas and New Year holidays.

  6.  Wishing you a very merry Christmas and an excellent New Year 2021.

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Home-made shortbread with royal icing, decorated with cherry and cranberry bits, lemon thyme leaves and dusted with icing sugar. Image © Gretchen Bernet-Ward 2020

Thank you so very much for reading my blog
Wishing you good health and happiness
Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Review ‘Silver’ by Chris Hammer

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Former journalist Martin Scarsden had vowed never to return to Port Silver so I was not too sure about his inauspicious homecoming nor his strained relationship with girlfriend Mandalay (Mandy) Blonde.  She has inherited an old house on a clifftop, while Martin seems distant from everything happening around him, plagued by unsettling flashbacks from his unsettled past.  And long-ago deaths in his family.

As the plot twists and turns with great characters and best-ever location, I was there strolling along the Port Silver shoreline; eating fish and chips; watching the waves break on Hummingbird Beach; driving the coastal road with Martin Scarsden as he tries to solve the stabbing death of his childhood friend Jasper Speight.  Unfortunately Jasper died in Mandy’s apartment and she is being held for his murder so Martin works on clearing her name using the only clue, a blood-stained postcard.

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Over nine days, Martin’s exploits unfold and move inexorable towards their goal, every question important to building the story and solving the first murder mystery.  Yes, not one but two mysteries, and I like the way Chris Hammer does not describe so much as lets slip small details until they add up to a whole.

Mandy’s creepy old Hartigan house on the clifftop is suitably introduced in Disney ‘Goonies’ fashion.

Characters formed before my eyes—all with big question marks hovering over their heads.  The mellow reunion with Martin’s Uncle Vern; the glowing backpackers Topaz and Royce; real estate agent Jasper’s mother Denise; Jay-Jay Hayes surfie greenie conservationist of Hummingbird Beach; sleazy bigwig developer Tyson St Clair; oddball Swami Hawananda; and dishonest cop Johnson Pear to name a handful.

Despite youthful recollections and emotional hurdles, Martin keeps working on the murder case, annoying the police and local land developers with questions and questionable behaviour.  He gets hauled in occasionally for interrogation and was appointed a scruffy solicitor Nick Poulos to handle his case.  Then comes a tragic mass murder … or ritual suicide?

At this stage, I am undecided if I am meant to have sympathy for Martin or not.  He certainly makes mistakes and isn’t good boyfriend material.  But he’s an inquisitive bloke, and a good journo who pursues the secondary crime of the multiple deaths.  The scoop of the decade!  By chapter 24, he’s in his element, following up leads, discovering clues, writing copy, advising Terri, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, topping it off by having dinner with media buddies just like old times.  Hmm.

An overarching question: what happened to his mother and sisters?  I think it’s stretching it to say Martin did not have an inkling about what happened all those years ago.  School mates, friends, even his alcoholic father could have babbled.  As to the possible perpetrators, I was spoilt for choice.  The only one I could happily cross off the list was Liam, the nappy-filling baby son of Mandy.

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I love Aleksander J. Potočnik’s map of Port Silver.  The setting is similar to Byron Bay and my photographs, taken on an overcast day, show the iconic Cape Byron Lighthouse.

The lighthouse sits on a rocky headland, Australia’s most easterly point.  That’s what  I pictured in my mind while reading.  The beaches, lighthouse, Nob Hill, coastal views, inland sugarcane fields and menacing land development which are strongly portrayed by the author.  Landmarks like the ‘fictitious’ old Cheese Factory give off furtiveness vibes.

Heading towards Martin’s hard won resolution, author Chris Hammer deserves top marks for not changing certain Australian words which some readers may not understand but will eventually figure out.  I think it’s time to stop neutering, let readers learn, laugh and speak our colloquial sayings.

Grab this book and be swept away by the tidal undertow of crime and mystery—well worth it.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


AUTHOR PROFILE:

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Chris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs.  He holds a BA degree in journalism from Charles Sturt University and a Master’s degree in international relations from Australian National University.

Chris has written an award-winning non-fiction book ‘The River’ followed by crime fiction ‘Scrublands’ published 2018 and shortlisted for Best Debut Fiction at the Indie Book Awards.  Chris lives in Canberra with his wife and two children.
Website https://chrishammerauthor.com/  Recommended ‘The Coast’ a journey along Australia’s eastern shores by Chris Hammer https://www.mup.com.au/books/the-coast-paperback-softback